Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #78, Rescued by a Dream

Portrait of me and Batkol drawn by them monks; image colorized and modified by the author, from a photograph taken by the author.
Portrait of me and Batkol drawn by them monks; image colorized and modified by the author, from a photograph taken by the author.

In this episode… a portrait of Batkol.

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Fourteenth Era, Part 17 of 18, ~1170 C.E., to Khazaria
Sh’monah Esray, Restore Holy Service

…Our blind descent into this tomb or devil’s den or prison, or passage out of this world….

Cough and gag. Engulfed in smoke. Is it smolderin’ dung or my soul a-flame? I begin to shout, to flail and curse and tear off my cloths; I’m burnin’ up. Fearsome chants, whispers and groans. I think a wolf is gnawin’ my hand; scaldin’ fluid drips from my lips; some ancient devil has grabbed my wrist, long black robe and scraggly beard, tryin’ to tear my fingers out from my clenched fist. And another one of them demons pokin’ a red hot iron into my mouth to roast my tongue. He says somethin; I’m not sure what…
“Eat my son. Don’t be a-feared. Swallow, sinner, or death be not far.”

Dim. Smoky. Crackle of flames. In my hand a crusty hunk of bread. A monk or wizard. In his shaky hand he’s holdin’ a spoon. A lumpy broth. He touches my lips. It drips from my chin. And soft words I can’t understand, or do I hear,
“Swallow, my son”?

I wake. A dull and flickery light. Crooked fingers of smoke. My eyes burn and drip tears. My fingers are raw but still in their swollen joints. It seems that sight be restored to the blind and there sits Batkol, equally dazed, lips black and a swollen face. My own lips hurt too much to talk but I mumble out,
“Where are we?”

(Well, I don’t actually remember all this. I’ve filled in what’s been told to me.)

In the days to come we slowly heal. Our rescuers are taciturn, and prone to hum or sing a hymn. But we learn these be Armenians, and this be a monastery near Kars. And that us bein’ alive is a miracle — we were rescued by a dream!

And this is how they tell the tale:
“Brother Anton, most elderly and vowed to silence, rose one night shoutin’ loudly,
“‘Madonna comes! But she is lost. Go rescue her!’
“These twenty years he never spoke til this. And hard the blizzard raged. Nor would we have ventured out but he insisted and led our way. Direct he led us through the storm, and when he seen you, ‘Thar she be!’ He run and took your hand and kneeled and all his prayer gone into you to save your souls. We brung you back, but him who saw you in his dream, the blizzard wrenched his soul away to save Madonna for this world.

“And now, behold! You be Jew. And sure we are your black arts deluded this pure and simple man to find you in your evil storm and sacrifice his soul for yours. Were we not so full of Christ that very night we’d have cut your throats. But then another dream descended and Father Gregor dreamt his dream:

“A snake be coiled in a tree and there he talks to a naked girl who walks by the way, content but lost. And then that snake become a dog and seen that girl be leavin’ her home, and growls and says,
“‘If you will come and live with me and clean my den I will be your faithful guard and be your guide in times to come.’”
“And now the dog rises up with human face and gryphon wings and angels follow him and sing,
“‘Holy, holy to the Lor.’”
“And then I look and clearly see this Jew-woman be that very child who walked beneath the gryphon’s wings. And then that gryphon turns to me, and says,
“‘This woman be serving Me, her soul imbued with holiness. Let her be your paragon. Paint her in a psaltery and neither harm the man with her.’”

And thus them monks set to work, with calls for painters and their crews — illuminators, binders, scribes. They sat Batkol upon a chair and dressed her in a sumptuous garb, and many days she posed for them, mother of God they seen in her; Shekhina is the word we use.
“*Ha makhazeer Shekhenatto leTzeyone…*”
*-* “Who restores His Presence to Zion,” the last verse of blessing 17, Sh’monah Esray

…in Zion and now Armenia as we take our leave from that monastery.

Fourteenth Era, Part 18 of 18
Sh’monah Esray, We give thanks

We was searchin’ for the Pontic* Sea, **its pulsive currents and icy course,** to skirt its shore until we found Khazaria, that Jewish land, that holy land to welcome us home, and finally live amongst our kin. But if Khazaria is no more, as cold and skeptic rumors claim, we’ll keep our route along the shore until it opens on the bay where Korchov*** sits. There the Dnieper disgorges its murky silt. We’ll trek its banks or sail its waves to Kiev, capital of Rus. From there we hears it’s some few days to Polan’s benevolent frontier.
* modern: Black Sea; ** with a nod to big Willy, Othello 3:3; *** modern: Kerch

Ever happen to you this way? Like rowin’ a boat across a lake, wind and currents batter you on. When you finally reach that quiet cove on the other side, you have no sense of where you are, or where’s the road you was aimin’ at. So it were, mountain and stream and bad advise divertin’ us like an ill blowed wind.

And there she be, murmurin’ verses, like ‘Come join me, boy,’ and swayin’ her hips. So we lay ourselves on Mother Kura’s* breast. Just now it don’t seem so wrong, hopin’ the Pontic be drainin’ her north to Ardahan, the next big town, even as she sidles on easterly.
* Kura River

And them mountains abreast of her norther shore, their blasts of wind squallin’ at us and warnin’ us they mean no good. But this river be friendly and gentle on us, and it’s hard to leave such a beguilin’ guide. Evening and morning, and noon we say,
“We gotta find another course.”

Like sailors driftin’ on a windless sea without oars, confused, fatigued, we lost our will, our hopes, our goals, and we let that river decide our fate. And the days pass and we drift on, ‘til we drift into a strange land, one we never even heard of before, some call Gorgan*, land of the wolf, but the locals call themselves Skartvelo.
* modern: Georgia


In the next episode… rumors of a road of silk and cities full of Jews.

About the Author
I am a writer, educator, artist, and artisan. My poetry is devoted to composing long narrative poems that explore the clash between the real and the ideal, in the lives of historical figures and people I have known. Some of the titles of my books are: The Song uv Elmallahz Kumming A Pilgimmage tu Jerusalem The Pardaes Dokkumen The Atternen Juez Talen You can listen to podcasts of my Eternal Jew posts on my personal blog, Textures and Shadows, which can be found on my website, or directly, at: I live just outside Washington, DC with my bashert, and we have two remarkable sons. Those three light my life.
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