In this episode we get a glimpse of how Mountain Jews live.
The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Fourteenth Era, Part 18 of 18, ~1170 C.E., to Khazaria
The terrors that follow after such a day — inchin’ on cliff-edge and percipitous drops, cloud-burst and wolf-pack, so what of that?
Come out of the clouds on the edge of a scarp, and directly below — an eagle could fly in maybe a minute; it takes us two days — a river cuttin’ its way through the slopes amongst these endless ridges and peaks.
I was thinkin’ the river, the Samur by name, would level the road and ease our way. And if you don’t mind leapin’ from rock to rock like a goat, only sometimes missin’ your mark, or wadin’ for hours up to your butt in icy waters while draggin’ a mule, then the Samur is just the road for you. Tamar and her folk, they’re singin’ the while, Mountain Jew ballads and Mountain Jew fun.
Finally this wilderness starts to unfold. The mountains bow down and prostrate themselves. The turbulent river starts to know peace. And behold, an ocean and its gentle waves murmur their praises, their Song of the Sea.
But not an ocean. It’s the Khazar Sea. But quick they calm me when they read my face:
“Don’t let that monkey climb outa your mouth. That kingdom of Jews has long been gone and their name on these waters is all that’s left.”
Darbon is maybe a day’s march away. But before Darbon we cut back west and I can’t help thinkin’ we’re chasin’ a goose, as we start ascendin’ a narrow vale, dusk, and them storm clouds with a baleful stare.
Then down from the mountain like Assyrian hordes, screamin’ and whoopin’ and bent for war, and down from their horses, howlin’ like wolves, and our men rush forward to meet their sword.
I never seen such a rumblin’ rout. Like maddened bucks that leap and collide, grabbin’ of necks with kisses and hugs and dancin’ about like a groom and his bride.
Sisters and brothers, cousins and kin, clan and all its extended shoots. Lookouts seen us from days away and started preparin’ and kept horses fresh. We gambol and caper into Abba-Evri* like a Persian carnival in full swing.
* Hebrew: Father of Hebrews
And none too soon. It’s the Rosh* of the year comin’ on in another day. Well into night we unpack and chat, squawk and set up, putter and prepare, settin’ fires and startin’ soups, tellin’ tales of darkness and gloom, and inside the darkness finding its light.
* Hebrew: ‘head’; Rosh haShana, the Jewish new year
Maybe here, at *’Ya’aseh shalom’* our journey through the **Sh’monah Esray** ends. Priestly blessings, many a one bein’ chanted to bless everyone, and peaceful and joyous it surely were. Such a holy khevrah* as ever was, like nothin’ I’d seen; maybe never again. So free and so worldly and so full of the Lor.
*-* Hebrew: who creates peace; **-** The 18 blessings; core of Jewish daily prayers
Fourteenth Era, Part 19 of 18
Sh’monah Esray, Bless us with Peace
A little rivulet runs through the town; it looks like the water everywhere else, but the folk declare and believe it true, that it’s milk and honey like Yisroyel drank when Moshe evoked water from rock.
This Abba Ivri is like an alternate world, cutting thru our spirit and time like a faint shadow or a curious thought. How long has it been here? How long will it last? For a morning or millennium, who can tell? What do they see when they look to the past? A history others thought was erased. And where will their steps come to at last? A warrior’s death or priestly grace? Their rituals and folktales, their language and prayers, so different from ours, and yet they’re Jews. From a single shoot a vineyard spreads, its vintage varyin’ hill to hill.
Many of the men shave their heads, but beards wave like scarves in the wind. Fierce their brow and piercing their eye as they scan the terrain or search your heart. Strangers ain’t likely to turn their back when they cross paths with these burly guys. And the women move about proud and at ease and never a veil to cover their face. And their coats and pantalons have vivid brocades of birds or beasts or floral displays.
I like to call them ‘Eagle Jews’, them cool predators coursin’ the skies, black tip wings with stripes of white and a tawny head that fades to blond; wing tips spread like leapin’ flame — ‘eagles of the sun’ their moniker here. And their towns like crags that clung to a ridge, houses jut from the steep hills, layers of shale about a forearm thick with narrow windows and low archin’ doors. Their mezuzahs carved in jasper and jade. Roofs of timber and layers of thatch. Inside, the walls are plastered in mud, and a hard clay floor packed with stone. A fireplace smack in the middle of the room. Gorgeous kilims in Turkic design hung like walls for private space. Houses that strike me as eagles’ nests, a *‘nes gadol’* Batkol likes to say.
*-* Hebrew pun: ‘a great miracle’, but here, ‘a big nest’
In the next episode Saadia sees flying lions. Or, he thinks he does…