Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Atternen Ju and the First Crusade

This brief scene in The Atternen Juez Talen (The Eternal Jew’s Tale) takes place in the Jewish year of 4856, 1096 CE. The poetry has been rewritten into prose, and the meta-English has been translated back to that archaic version of English commonly spoken in the world.

Godfrey of Bouillon is rounding up troops and money to lead an army on Crusade. He comes to Troyes, home of the famous vintner rabbi, Shlomo Yitzchaki, more commonly known as Rashi. There, the Eternal Jew is teaching at Rashi’s academy.

Hearing the pope’s call for Crusade, the Jewish community becomes worried...

Shlomo’s fears soon grow roots. Godfrey Bouillon, that aspirin’ prince, come visitin’ his vassal Jew, our Reb. Some say he’s a decent and tolerant man. I come to know him better than that. He was surrounded by jackals; some looked like men, and a few soldiers who claimed to be knights.
“We are off to liberate our land,”
says he,
“And re-assert the true faith. Once Jerusalem is ours again, mayhaps there will be a place for you.”

Like a cheap bobble he holds this out, hopin’ to buy the reb’s support. He wants his money or some reckless men.
“The law forbids us to carry arms, as is your will. And gold is scarce. How might I serve your dangerous quest? Perhaps your carts are not so full that space may be made for some tuns of wine. And our grapes are not the sweetest, as you yourself say, but they pack right well into raisin cakes.”
That seemed to sate Bouillon’s thirst, which we had fears might know no quenching. But then as he turns to go, over his shoulder, smilin’ a growl,
“Oh yes, there’s one more thing I need. That Jew of yours, I want him too. I need his tongues and his travel eyes. No doubt, his service you can spare.”
And then he turns, my heart in hand.

Question, argue, beg as we might, he hears it not. Pointin’ his finger, some snarling jackals bumble inside, grab my arm, my cloak, my beard, me kickin’ and shoutin’ as they stumble back out. And there’s Bouillon all stink and sweat. With a crooked finger he spears down at me,
“You run from me, and that vintner Jew -- my serfs will throw him into a vat along with them girls and that wife of his, and they’ll tromp ‘em down with his sour grapes and turn their blood into satan’s wine. Hear me, you talkin’ viper Jew?”

There’s Reb Shlomo a-gaze at me, sorrowful eyes and suddenly old. So I temper my voice  and replies to Bouillon,
“Now hear me, honorable prince. This gang of serfs, your army here, what do they know of battle and gore? I seen Muslim armies too. You’re pickin’ a fight with no good end. I doubt you’ll ever return to Troyes. but if you do, you’ll return alone, you and a few of your horses is all. The rest of these, their blood will cry from soil and stone, wherever it spills, accusin’ you when your soul is judged.”

Now Shlomo rushes to Bouillon, a-mount, and grabs his boot.
“Have mercy, sire.”
Bouillon kicks him and lopes away as they tie a noose around my neck, and drag me along like a dancin’ bear.

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