Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #89, Genghis!

Saba - Teacher; image colorized and modified by the author, from the public domain book Picturesque Palestine, published 1884, owned by the author.
Saba - Teacher; image colorized and modified by the author, from the public domain book Picturesque Palestine, published 1884, owned by the author.

In this episode, *ya gotta know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away and know when to run*. *-* Kenny Rogers

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Fourteenth Era, Part 22, ~1220 C.E., Mtskheta

These are days of prosperity. Like a dog that has learned how everyone smells and ain’t pervoked to snarl and bark, we incline to regard strangers as friends, and we congregate in the open squares. Fear has diminished and gates are unlocked.

And there’s Asmodeus lookin’ down. Good will and trust give a rancid smell to a carrion eater, to them that thrive on fear and conflict, guile and gore. And like a furious centaur here he come as Genghis Khan and his Mongol horde. That monster would eventually slaughter almost *half the seed of Asia, one by one.*
*-* The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

But, sorry, I’m gettin’ ahead of myself. Dread reports trickle like ooze from a boil inflamed — ‘Genghis’s men be comin’ down.’ ‘Nah’ and ‘Pshaw’ and ‘They won’t come here.’ — and we tamp it off. Distant places, like Karakorum, then it’s Kashgar, then Samarkand.

And now the pus flows and the veins all swell and anxiety bulges with terror behind. The only topic on anyone’s mind:

“Why would he conquer this useless land? Baghdad, west, is a precious gem. That’s his goal, not these barren hills.”
“They say he’s open to tribute and bribe.”
“Bah! He’ll take both our gold and sons. Our gold he’ll keep on leachin’ out, and our sons he’ll send back wrapped in shrouds.”
“Should we seek asylum in Kievan Rus?”
“Rus will strip us clean. They’re a locust swarm. I trust a Mongol more than them!”
“We’re Mountain Jews. We can live in the hills. Empty our home; pack our tools; smuggle our goods under their nose.”
“Persia, its plains are strewn with the dead. Dry bones out east; still rank in the west. And now Asmodeus and his devilish horde are rapin’ Rayy and sniffin’ for the arse of that Jal al-Din who hides among us. A wild dog sniffs the air and pursues the malodorous bitch and her rotten dew.”
“You’re wrong. Baghdad’s fruit is ripe to be plucked, sweet cherry in an open field, guarded by an ancient and feeble man. We’re just a sour and seedy grape. If he takes a taste, he’ll spit us out.”

But them as aren’t the chatterin’ type pack their houses, load their mules, and scatter into the turbulent wind.

Now our troubles really began.*
* Maus by Spiegelman, last line, Book 1

Forty nine eighty or there abouts. That’s twelve twenty by Julian’s count. Muslims say it’s six seventeen. Genghis says it’s the end of time, and his infernal name is Ahriman. Ridin’ on horses of iron and brass, a string of skulls adorn his neck. Thrice the size of a giant man, his arrows the size of a pikeman’s spear and a bow that shoots them a parasang.

Such weather that winter! Terror and ice, snow piled up to our knotted guts, the sky a confusion of blackened clouds and a flat expanse, lifeless as iron. Then thunderheads, cloudburst, onslaught of rage. Then the firestorm fades, morning and fog, survivors emerge from the carnage, stunned in the after-burn of horror and fright. Here, a mother, in her cradlin’ arms a child, ghostly pale and limp. There, a little girl and boy wailin’, faces smeared in soot, “Mama, mama,” but who will respond? Others wander in wide-eyed shock, emergin’ from forest or heaps of dead, the thunder of horse and echo of screams reverbin’ still in their cavernous eyes. Tearful joys in the lucky and rare family who didn’t suffer a loss. Mountain and valley weep and howl; forest and glen whisper a curse. Crows strike up a chorus of joyous caws as they make a feast of innerds and eyes, while blacksmith’s forge, general store, granary mill, han and barn, all are stripped clean by the locust horde.

Such strange beholdin’s eruptin’ in me. A chorus of mournin’ women recite another Eichah* birthed from my bowels. Trumpets and howls. White doves in flight. A flashin’ sword or a savior and shield? Swoonin’ in death; anointed heads. All together they run thru my brain like stampedin’ horses or an angry mob, and tear me apart and heal me, the same.
* Book of Lamentations

Bitter sweet voices and agonized cries; the spray of blood, the spray of surf. A blindin’ light pours down in warmth. Just a silky veil is hung between the Lor of Worlds and our feeble eyes. In my grief that silky veil is tore and behind my weepin’, an ancient calm.

Come Ahriman in your chariot of brass.
Come sword and spear and fire and clash.
Come tramplin’ horse with howl and bray.
Come slaughter and famine and stinkin’ decay.

There, Gabriel descends in the night;
There, a scroll, suffusin’ its light;
There, legions of angels sing;
There, the liberated Soul takes wing.

What is this world that our eyes can know?
Though serpent and swine defile our abode,
We still choose how to walk the road.

But mystical thinkin’ don’t feed the starved, don’t heal no wounds, don’t make no home for a bitter and terrorized orphan child. Batkol turns her holy tikkuns* to servin’ the needs of the homeless and weak.
* Hebrew: repairs, transformations

Tamar owns a han, now half burnt out, but its rock-hewn walls and clay brick stalls are solid. It didn’t take long to repair the stairs, the roof, the gate and doors, to clean out the straw, the wreckage and dung and build bunks in the tiny vaults.

Batkol’s vision:
“This ain’t a dorm but a school for skills, body and mind, to acquire Torah, and honor, and a trade. We’re the family these children just lost. We’re their protection and we’re their trust.”

So here I be after all these years, a teacher of Torah to a gaggle of boys, (and in the process, a father to them.)

The boys meet down in an old horse stall, mornin’ learnin’ to read and write, afternoons out to apprentice themselves in animal husbandry, trades and crafts. In the upper chambers the girls learn to read and write, like boys, as Batkol insists. I suppose she’s right, though most of the folk look askance or mutter aloud:

“Girls can’t do that. They ain’t got the sense.”
And then when the girls outshine the boys the same bellyachers mutter and growl,
“It ain’t right to shame them boys like that.”
But Batkol ain’t a-feared to retort,
“If boys be ashamed it’s their own fault. If they stop their wrastlin’ and their foolery and sit down to learn, they might keep up!”

And just like the boys, in the afternoon we found women to teach the girls to sew and cook and spin and knit, prepare herbals and salves, learn midwifery.

So here I am with a giggle of boys. I’ll break ‘em and beat ‘em and straighten ‘em out (so I says to myself in them first days). But here I am and they’re runnin’ wild and I smile and remember my own youthful days. I’m a soft old saba* to these billy goat boys. But in the afternoons as I make the rounds and deliver these boys to the leathery men that have no inclination or time for foolishness, just labor and sweat, and are quick to fist or lay on a rod, drivin’ their wards to nasty work, like gatherin’ dung and haulin’ brick, their mornings with me begin to change. Readin’ and writin’ don’t seem so dull, and the Torah’s miracles and reverent tales bring wonder and questions and rowdy debates about illustrious forbears and our fearsome Lor.
* Hebrew: grandfather


In the next episode, some portraits of these children.

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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