Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #94, Lost Tribes

Radhanites; image colorized and modified by the author, from the public domain book Picturesque Egypt, published 1878, owned by the author.
Radhanites; image colorized and modified by the author, from the public domain book Picturesque Egypt, published 1878, owned by the author.
In this episode, hangin’ out with gypsies.

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Fifteenth Era, Part 2, ~1272 C.E., Herat

…Walkin’ the ruins where the vagrants camp, I always pass some hovelly shops excavated from the rubble piles — sellers of relics; soothsayer hags; gypsies playin’ crude instruments, and tunes that haunt me, familiar but strange; where have I heard those melodies before?
One day I stops there to reminisce. Like branches blowin’ in a willowy wind, I sits on a rock, a-sway in the tunes. Tho ragged and driftin’, I imagine I’m hearin’ the tropes and trills of long ago in Sura, the way that Torah were leyned. Some gypsy boy takes hold of my hand and leads me into his rubbly camp. Now a group of men gather around and while I’m wonderin’, ‘Is this safe?’ they pull out their weapons, oud and flute, tambour and drum, and begin to play. Soon they lift their voice in song; I know these words,
*‘oseh shalom, hu ya-aseh shalom…’*
But who are these gypsies o-sayin’ this?
*-* ‘create peace, You who create peace…,’ a verse found in many parts of Jewish liturgy
“Ani* Radhanya; Eebru** ani.
And so I learn, these are gypsy Jews which I never heard of or ever dreamed of; a moment ago, just strangers to me, but now we feel a deep bond. And so these long lost brothers and I begin to search out our few degrees of separation, and the many years that splintered us out of a common tree.
* Hebrew for “I”; ** Hebrew
And out of a potpourri of tongues — Hebrew, Farsi, Turkish, Greek, Arabic, Frankish, and Spanish too — they wove their tales, fancy and fact.
“We who bore the Khazar folk, and we who traded across the world in a vast confederation of clans from Ungar* to the China Sea, includin’ Tibet and Byzantium; and every city and every town had their Radhanite merchant-prince. We organized such caravans as never the world will see again; so long, it could take a half a day to walk from the tail up to the head. And Shabbat, we always stayed encamped; Jewish law were the rule of the road. We were wealthy as kings and fearless as jinns, as wise in Talmud as in worldly ways. And many a prince or princess were wed to our sons and daughters to gain our trust.”
* now Hungary
“In our saddlebags, rubies and gold, spice and perfume, silk and furs. In our saddles, princes and diplomats. The letters of credit we held in our hands were as valuable as castings of gold. Armed troops protected our flanks and their scouts reported directly to us. We still know how far to every well; where every oasis and safe camp lies; where bandits hide, where disease lurks; what clouds and winds and birds foretell. The lay of the land is engraved in our hearts. We are the Jews that are known as Radhan,* but look at us now among these shards. The Mongol sword hangin’ over the lands drove the traders off these steppes, and left us stricken, stark and lone. Remember us to our brethren. The Lor may raise us once again.”
* Radhanites
Their musical tales swirl my mind in reveries of our future and past. I curtail my searches and wanderin’ and spend my days among these folk, learnin’ the roads and their changin’ ways, while evenings I sit with the Polo clan discussin’ my finds and the likeliest ways to compound profits and stay alive. Risk and reward. It’s a dangerous game. And there lay our Marco with a yellow cast, full of excitement to forge ahead and a moment later a-slump in his bed.
The weeks, the fortnights, the months pass as Marco wavers in spirit wars. Meanwhile, me and Batkol are absorbed by these Radhanite gypsies, like wolves on the run, scraggly and wary and nearly extinct. Yet they know the terrain, above and below. Makin’ secret expeditions east along the edge of craggy cliffs, thru chasms and cloven faces of rock. Hide-outs dug in limestone hills, or coverts and caves was where we slept. These caves like treasuries, each one packed with books and scrolls and holy things and records of life on the trade routes, compiled by this last remnant of Jews to preserve their history and lineage.
We went further and further on outward treks til finally they took us to that Aden, Balkh, which like Adam exiled from his estate, and behold, all he can see is ruin, that garden now but rubble and thorn.
“An inner light once filled this clay. It shone like the moon beneath the Lor’s gaze. Priests from around the world gathered here to teach and debate and record their truths. We thought this place was protected from Above, but alas, evil can divert and delay God’s will. Its teachers are scattered; its wisdoms lost.”
One night, listenin’ to music and song, such evocative lyrics and exotic tunes as I’d never heard in our piyutim*.
“What angel Soul transcribed these words? And why ain’t they found in our holy siddur** or sung on Shabbat or the Days of Awe?***
* religious poems extolling God and tradition, often integrated into the liturgy
** prayerbook; *** Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur
“Haven’t you heard of the Seer of Rome, Jalaladdin*, the Sufi sage? This is a song he wrote out here in the lucid heights of Khorasan.”
* aka Rumi
Tho you must re-create the music of them, here are the lyrics that divine one wrote:
“Harken to this Reed, forlorn,
“Sighing ever since it was torn
“from its rush’s bed, and tossed
“into stormy love and loss….
“Divided from my true abode
“an outcast, weeping by the road.
“Would you learn how lovers bleed?
“Harken, harken to the Reed.”
“Where can I find this holy one?”
I cried, smitten with envy and awe.
“He passed this way not so long ago, hearin’ the Lor’s strain in us, and seekin’ his lost, inspired friend. Some say he returned to Byzantium; others, that he walks the heavenly spheres. But in these parts, all that remains are these few hymns we put to song. All else is lost, and the angels weep.”
In the next episode, voices in the night, and dreams.
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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