Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #82, Rosh HaShanah

Crowned Lion; image colorized and modified by the author, from the public domain book Atalanta Fugiens, accessible at the Science History Institute.
Crowned Lion; image colorized and modified by the author, from the public domain book Atalanta Fugiens, accessible at the Science History Institute.

In this episode, untraditional traditions.

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Fourteenth Era, Part 19 of 18, ~1170 C.E., to Khazaria

Once we settle, I turns to Tamar,
“What’s the language these folks speak? I ain’t graspin’ a word they say and it ain’t like nothin’ I ever heard.”
She smiles.
“Us Jews is one of a kind. But listen close. I think you’ll snag a word or two if your ears are sharp.”
Long I’m minin’ this gobbledygook and then like a child with a little net swingin’ at butterflies that ever escape til finally, swoosh, there’s one in the net, me, I’m hearin’ Hebrew fragments, a flitter here and a flutter there, as they whizzle all around my net.
“Some kind of Hebrew,” I venture a guess, “but the accents and some of the letters are wrong.”

“Your hearin’ a language that no one else speaks. ‘Juhuri’ we call it. It’s a language stew. Arabic, Persian, some Turkish too, Hebrew, of course, and some local talk that don’t seem to come from some far shoot, just grown right here in these rugged hills. But, with Arabic and Hebrew you’ll catch on soon.”

I ain’t never heard such a thing before. Rare fruit at the edge of the world.

And like their language their Jewish rites, such a compote as I never seen. Rosh HaShanah. They gather outside in a rocky ravine, lined with pine. Now here comes the rabbi and the notables carryin’ a golden Ark on high like Israelites done, marchin’ to war. And there like a natural home in these cliffs (that rise like God’s own Temple on earth) an archin’ niche. Perfect its size where they set the Ark with thunder of drums.

Everyone rises as they open the Ark. I swear, I see lions leap out of its depths to chase demons lurkin’ in these hills. I looks around.
“Did you see that?”
and I nudge Batkol. She turns to me a frown on her face,
“Did I see what? Now shush yourself. This is holy time.”
“Certain it is!”
And quick I turns back to that Ark. What else will break out?

Now the rabbi turns, a ram’s horn in hand, no doubt to blow the tekiah* blasts and break the shell that encloses the New Year. And what a shofar**! Long as your arm; a coilin’ twist in its long reach; and rippled ribs, black, gray and white. That ram must have been here in Aberham’s time.
* name of the first of the 3 types of shofar blasts, a single long blast;
** ram’s horn used as a trumpet

Amongst the crowd the rabbi parades with that shofar, and everyone kissin’ their own hand and reachin’ out to touch the horn as if it’s a Torah! These Mountain Jews! I looks to Batkol, disdainful and snide. Good thing the fire stays in her eyes or I’d have been burnt like that young Nadav*
*-* Vayikra/Leviticus 10:1-2

They puts the shofar back in its Ark with nary a teruah* or shevarim**. A short Shakhrit*** and not so unlike the body of prayers I knew and loved long ago in my Sura days.
* means “shatters”; nine or more short blasts
** three short wave-like tekiahs; on Rosh HaShanah it is traditional to blow
the shofar 100 times; *** morning prayers;

Now comes an elder with a mountainous cap and a gray beard as wide as it is long, who speaks a dvar,* and this his theme:
“We are children of the Galilee driven out of our holy land for sowing ourselves in the wasteland of baal, and cutting off Adonai-our-Lor. Sore payment, our punishment til we righted ourselves and cleansed our souls, and redeemed this garden as a new Galilee. Here to feed our minds with truth while the Lor is plow and break up the clay and make our soil rich again, and plant our souls in holy crops, and tend our fields and harvest us, and restore us to our ancient Home. Child of the Mountain, child of Sinai, prepare yourself and be prepared.”
* a talk; a sermon

Then come another man, young and strong, his caftan like to Joseph’s coat, colorful stripes from hood to hem. And a mountainous hat like that other one, his mustache full and his beard red.
“Worthy people, strong as bull, swift as gazelle, eagle eyed, now is the time our spirits rise and fill this land with holy words.”

Like one, the congregation rises; the Ark is lifted from its rocky niche and off we march, old and young up a steep and narrow trail. Our shadows are short by the time we reach a high meadow at the mountain’s peak.

“Like Ezra before us, like the Prophets aft, we carry this Torah up to the heights, here to read it into the land, and into the people’s open hearts for the glory of God and His Choosen Ones.”

There they read Torah in a haunting chant as if the very land itself was pourin’ forth its secret song: the story of *Jacob gone down to Haran,* then the history of **Israel’s demise,** concludin’ with Micah, ***”You will be redeemed.”*** Then from caftan and quilted coat all the people take out their horns and a mighty blast like I’ve never heard, issues from man, woman, child, and the mountains tremble in a thousand replies, as distant hills and other clans of Mountain Jews resound their horns, such as nowhere else in the world from Khorasan to London town was ever done, except this place.
*-* Berraysheet/Genesis 28:1-29:1; **-** II Kings17:1-12; ***-*** Micah, 2:12-13

And now they lift the Torah high and open the Ark and once again, winged lions spring out and strut upon their hind feet, followin’ the Torah thru the crowd, then vault back into the open Ark before the Torah is lain in it. And it seems that no one but me could see them monarchs wearin’ their indigo crowns.

Now down the mountain at a snappy pace, children whoopin’ and leadin’ the way, the elderly stragglin’ a bit, yet full of cheer in the happy day. When we arrives back in Abba Ivri the feast already is piled high, the children’s chins drippin’ grease, and cheeks smeared with peppery sauce. You can smell the kabobs a hillside away and the fresh baked bread and the spicy stews. And, oh, the lanes resoundin’ with tunes, such music and musical instruments as I never seen and never heard, as would make you want to jump and dance; or carry you off on a moonlit lake with your loved one’s moony eyes on you. And look at these women dancin’ a storm, yeah, arm in arm, women and men, free and carefree these people are. Like ice in spring, once hard and cold, now drip and splash in the springtime sun, my fast-bound opinions and propriety and my judgmental smirks are meltin’ away. O how freedom unbinds the Soul!


In the next episode, Rajahs, shahs, khans, and sheikhs.

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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