Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #99 Rav Susya’s Poland

Tavern Scene; image colorized and modified by the author, obtained from Wikimedia Commons, Tavern Scene, illustration by Włodzimierz Tetmajer, in the public domain.
Tavern Scene; image colorized and modified by the author, obtained from Wikimedia Commons, Tavern Scene, illustration by Włodzimierz Tetmajer, in the public domain.
In this episode we enjoy a fine meal in a tavern.

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Sixteenth Era, Part 2, 1280 C.E., Poland

It seems that peddler we met back there who told us to go to Ludmir where Rabbi Susya makes a home, this is that very Rabbi Sus who poskins* over all these vales from Zhitomir to Lutsk to Chelm.
* makes rulings about law
After dinner he says to me,
“Eleven weeks from B’Khukotai to Devarim* and Tishah b’Av**. That gives me one more Shabbos here…”
* Torah portion that begins Book of Devarim/Deuteronomy
** Jewish day of mournin’ for tragic events; it falls on or just after Shabbat Devarim
(‘Shabbos*?’ I thinks. Passin’ strange.)
*** emergin’ European pronunciation
“…then two in Lutsk, and Ludmir three, and two in Chelm, and then back home for the *three weeks* to Tisha b’Av then the **seven weeks of relent and repent** and a ***month of Awe*** and back on the road. Come with me to Ludmir and live. A man of your skills will find plenty of work.”
*-* the 3 weeks up to Tisha b’Av spent in mournin’
**-** 7 weeks of comfort up to Rosh HaShannah
***-*** Days of Awe and Sukkot take nearly a month
“Batkol here is a woman of skills. Don’t forget her in accountin’ our worth.”
And he looks at me with a narrow eye. And so our trek from Tiveria ends exactly where Batkol inclined. Along the way Rav Susya tells stories of what this Poland is like. Here are a few of the many tales he regaled on us as we jolted and bumped, and the wagoner cursed his bony nag.

Sixteenth Era, Part 3, 1280 C.E., Lutsk

“Here in Poland all Jews are saints, patient, tolerant, acceptin’ our lot. Here’s an example to prove my point.
There’s a tavern on the road to Chelm that the local farmers and peasants like. Such a place and such a crowd! I know a Jew who was sittin’ there sippin’ a tea at end of day.
At another table a trader sits down, orders ale and looks around. Seen the Jew. He spits and stands up and shouts,
“‘What’s a Jew drinkin’ with us?’
“Well, there’s frowns and grunts but nothin’ more, so to irk the Jew, he shouts to the crowd,
“‘I’m buyin’ ale for all of you except this damned Jew,’ and gives a big smirk.
“The Jew, he just smiles and nods his head. This provokes the bigot still more and he spits again and shouts again,
“‘And pieroygis and kraut for everyone too, except for this Jew, may he go to hell!’
“Still that Jew just kindly says,
“‘May your works receive their true reward.’
“and the stranger sneers,
“‘You simpleton Jew,’
“and pays his bill and tromps out. Like I says, we Jews here all are saints.”
“Mercy,” says I, “such a holy man.”
Rav Susya smiles and nods his head.
“That’s Zevkah my nephew, a prince of a boy. And wealthy too. That tavern is his.”
The hills echo back Susya’s guffaw.
“But my Zevkah’s not the only saint. Our people hold Christians in high esteem and are quick to honor and celebrate them. Not long ago a great monastery and church was built in the center of Chelm. A little convent was added on with a ceremony for the Brides of Christ. Them young girls who would take vows to marry and serve their Jesu Lor quietly gathered. And there in the church four Talmud khokhem* from our *beit midrash*.
* sages; *-* house of study
The Mother Superior welcomes our boys and asks them,
“‘Why are you honoring us?’
“‘We are the family of the groom.’”
The rav sits there all shivers and shakes. Hard to say if the bumpy road or his lumpy humor jiggles him more.
“The basilica’s priest and me become friends after our boys showed up that day.”
Now all worked up in a sermony mood, Susya grabs my arm and declares as he points to the dark and, grumblin’ sky like he’s pointin’ to scripture writ up there:
“Brother, the Roman bishops and priests alike give honor to us Jewish sages. When Duke Vladislov* came to Chelm, Bishop Piotr requested I come to greet the Duke and speak for his Jews.
* of the Polish royal family til the 14th century
“At the great feast he called up the bishop and me to show our wisdom. He asked of us,
“‘When you’re laid in your coffin, what do you hope people will say at your funeral?’
“The bishop mumbled some typical words like,
“‘I helped the weak and inspired my flock.’
“Me, my prayer was that people would say,
“‘Look, he’s breathin’. Don’t bury him!’”
Just then our wagon enters the town of Dubno. Children run out to greet the beloved rabbi. He’s hailed with stones. Women scuttle to slam their gates. Farmers lumber from the fields with scythes and pitchforks, brayin’,
‘Devil be gone,’
as Susya breaks into another tale.
In the next episode, a job offer to our dynamic duo.
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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