Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #96, Welcome to Poland

Dressed as Mongols; image colorized and modified by the author, obtained from Wikimedia Commons, Nushirvan Eating-Shahnama-MET_DT214034, in the public domain.
Dressed as Mongols; image colorized and modified by the author, obtained from Wikimedia Commons, Nushirvan Eating-Shahnama-MET_DT214034, in the public domain.

In this episode our hero and heroine have been teleported thru a wormhole 8 years into the future and 2500 miles west. In the coming weeks and months I’ll be integrating some classic folk tales and humorous stories into the narrative, to expand the ethnographic horizons.

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Sixteenth Era, Part 1, 1280 C.E., Poland

In fifty-forty in the summer heat; twelve-eighty by Gregor’s account, and Muslims figure it’s six-seventy-nine. Our passage thru Rus and the Mongol steps was a dreary trek thru waste and war, burnt out farmlands and harvests of death. Then we come to the fertile Volhynian plains. Zhitomir, its sprawl of graves and charred remains of a timber fort, mementoes of Mongol diplomacy. 

Now wooden hovels huddle in clumps and the lanes a swamp of dung and mud with men at work, shovel and rope, diggin’ out carts sunk to their hubs. Mosquitoes and hornets and swarmin’ flies, bleat of sheep and squeal of child, and the gruntin’ pigs and the gruntin’ men; this the music that thickens the air. In this misty drear, in this break of day among this dance in the mornin’ light, skulkin’ along at the side of a lane some black robed men in thick fur caps, tefillin* on their foreheads and books in their arms, the first Jews we seen since Khorasan.
* phylacteries

I whispers ‘*Shalom khaver*’ as we passed, not knowin’ the good or the ill of the place. They stops and stares like I’m a talkin’ bear. I suppose our bright colored Persian shirts and puffy pantalons tucked in our boots, and my turban and long hair and close clipped beard, and Batkol a flurry of colorful scarves and pantalons rather than a shapeless dress… Yes, I suppose we looked a bit odd. Finally one of them boys spits out,

“Beware these apikores* Jews. Poowie. The devil in a Tatar’s hat.”
And they scurry away like porcupines.
“Welcome to gracious Volhynia*,” says I.
*-* Hebrew: ‘hello friend’;
* apostate; the term comin’ from the Greek philosophical school, ‘epicurean’

Says Batkol,
“There ain’t no love for Mongols here. Burnt down their towns and filled their graveyards. Look at us! We’re dressed as Mongol as Batu Khan.”

In followin’ days we come on a fair. A peddler Jew were tradin’ in clothes, so we bartered our elegant ikats and silks for the sackcloths these slavic people prefer, like every day is *Tisha b’Av*.
*-* Jewish day of mournin’ for destroyed Temples

We finished our bargains and chatted in the sun. Peddlers know the dangers of the road, and the fastest routes and the news of each town, and where there’s Jews and where there’s wolves.
“Five days to Rovno* if you walk with a will and the rains hold off; then three more to Lutsk, then keep on goin’ west three more days til you reach Ludmir**. A kehilah*** there and a Rabbi Sus.”
* aka Rivne; ** the Poles say Volodymyr Volynskyi; *** Hebrew: community

And I says to him as a compliment, tho I think he took it differently,
“With all them treasures you bargained from us, them fine weavings and fancy silks in exchange for garb made of barley sack, you could move to Ludmir and buy a shop!”


In the next episode… lured into a deep and dark forest.

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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