Saturday, January 7, 2012

Luther Returns to Wittenberg

March 8, 1522 Wittenberg, Germany (almost a year after Luther disappeared)
Heinrich was about to close his shop when he heard a commotion outside; just as he was about to see what it was, the door burst open. Spilling in was a throng of people; Heinrich was trying to make sense of it when, all of a sudden, Luther’s presence made itself known. He walked up to the counter as his coterie crowded alongside. When Luther’s eyes fixed upon Heinrich, their mutual recognition beamed into smiles. Luther held out his hand and when Heinrich’s grasped it, Luther said, “Thank you Heinrich for getting those manuscripts for me; Jan-Harm thought well of your work and so do I.” Stunned and surprised, Heinrich could only say, “My pleasure Martin.” Luther added,“It was a great help to me as I started to translate the Bible into German. Please come to hear me preach at the church tomorrow.” Heinrich eagerly replied, “I’d love to; I’ll be there; welcome back Martin.” Luther was making his rounds through town, so he didn’t stay long. As the group left his shop, Heinrich was excited to realize that Wittenberg’s claim to fame was back. He couldn’t wait to get home and tell his family. He quickly cleaned up and made sure the shop was shut down before he locked the door and headed home.
Wittenberg was alive with activity on this spring day. The news that Luther had returned was making its way through the rumor mill and he could tell that there was more activity in the streets. Heinrich took the shortest way home. He had just passed parish Church when he heard a scream spilling onto the street ahead. When he got to the alley entrance, he looked down its shadowed length and saw two men accosting someone at the other end. He immediately headed in that direction. One of the men was holding the coat lapels of the victim and the other one was restraining their arms as they taunted the person. Half-way down the alley Heinrich yelled, “Stop it!” and picked up the pace. As he reached the melee, the two men faced off with Heinrich, their fists ready for confrontation. “We’re just having some fun, they rebuffed.” Heinrich raised his voice, as he saw out of the corner of his eye a woman sprawled on the cobblestones, “What are you doing harassing this woman?” The larger man said, “She’s just a Jewess!” In response, Heinrich yelled, “Get out of here!” “Says who?”, the smaller man asked, finding some bravery in the fact that Heinrich was outnumbered. Heinrich reached to his right side, pulled out a knife with a hefty blade, and brandished it in front of their faces, as he said, “Me! and you’ll have to fight me first; I know how to use this!” The two trouble makers backed up and retreated down the street, flinging their final sneering remark: “Judensau!” as they ran.
Heinrich turned his attention to the woman as he sheathed his knife and said, “Are you alright?” As he sized up her situation, he knew he had never seen her before. He held out his hand to help; but she refused it and stood up by herself. As she straightened out her clothes, Heinrich noticed that her dress was torn, her coat was dirty, and a Star of David necklace hung from around her neck. In response to the attack she said angrily, “Evil men!; why can’t we be left alone?” Heinrich said, in a demure tone, “Not everyone is evil.” Heinrich noted that she was pretty, probably in her mid 20’s, and, though he didn’t think the implications through, wanted to stay involved in this fortuitous affair. Her tone softened as she said, “Thank you; I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t come by.” 
Heinrich replied, “How did this happen? I mean, what were they after?” She knew well enough why, “Oh, it’s the same old story; Jews are fair game in the world.” Heinrich knew something about the plight of Jews, but had never bought into the reasons or the attitudes why people were against them. “Why did he yell Judensau; and what is your name anyway?”, asked Heinrich. Taking a more regal stance, she said, “I am Rebekah, bat Koenigsberg and I’ll show you what they meant.” She began walking in the direction Heinrich came from and he had to run to keep up with her. At the end of the alley, Rebekah paused for a second, and took a left turn when Heinrich reached her side. 
With a purpose that guided her every step, Rebekah maneuvered through the street until she came to the Southwestern wall of the town church. She pointed at a sculpture protruding from the wall, and said derisively, “If that’s what Christians are taught about us, it’s no wonder they behave the way they do!” Heinrich had known about the sculpture called Judensau; but never had gazed at its details closely; he peered closer now. It portrayed a large pig with teats hanging down. Sucking from its udders were three Jewish youths. At the pig’s backside, a Jewish rabbi was holding up one of the pig’s legs as he gazed into its rear end. Written over the top in Golden flourishes were the words: “Rabini - Schem Hamphoras”.
As Heinrich read the letters, Rebekah translated, “What it means is that mystical Jews get their secret knowledge from a pig’s behind. It’s disgusting!” As if he was a thief caught with stolen goods in his hand, Heinrich could not think of anything to say in its defense, so he responded, “You’re right, it is disgusting! and you shouldn’t receive such treatment. And here it is on the corner of a church for all to see!” They both just stood there as injustice settled like a cold fog around them.
Heinrich was thinking of her condition and the approaching evening when he said, “Why don’t you come to my house?” He immediately thought how that sounded and quickly added, “My mother and sister are there. My sister could sew your dress and, well, I know you probably wouldn’t want to eat there - but we might have something you’d like. It’ll be dark soon and you can’t stay here.” Rebecca thought of her options, considered the purpose of her visit and then asked, “What is your name? and how do I know that I can trust you?” “I’m Heinrich, the son of Hans Berkmeier, though my father died three years ago.” At this, Rebekah interjected, “Did you say Berkmeier?” As Heinrich nodded, she pondered her plan.  “I’ve just rescued you from harm and I give you my word that I only want to help you, though I admit you’ll have to trust me,” said Heinrich.
“We live about 5 streets away; what do you say?” She paused, and then said, “As Rebekah of old had to entrust her life to Abraham’s servant Eliezer, so I will follow you to your home.” Heinrich flirted with the thought that he was Isaac in the Genesis story before he said, “Good, let’s go.” He headed off with Rebekah by his side. As they passed other people, many of whom Heinrich recognized, Heinrich was aware that their eyes were following them. Rebekah didn’t have anything overtly visible about her that was Jewish, except perhaps her dark hair. But, in this small town where most people knew everyone, she was an outsider and Heinrich imagined that was enough to set their tongues wagging. As they approached his home in the deepening shadows of twilight, Heinrich took comfort in the cheery glow of lamps through the windows. 
He knocked on the door and his mother soon appeared. Her expectant smile turned to a questioning wonder when she beheld the two of them. In response to her silence, Heinrich said, “Mother, I’d like you to meet Rebekah; Rebekah, my Mother, Freyda. Rebekah ran into a little trouble in town and I stepped in to help. I hope it’s alright to bring her here.” Heinrich’s mother looked Rebekah over with a reassuring smile, noted the Star of David necklace and said, “Why of course, come right in dear.” They both entered the comfortable cottage and Heinrich shut the door.
Rebekah looked at the three rooms she could see from the entryway and the impression that came to her was: clean and cozy. At this point Heinrich’s sister walked in, saw the female guest and was somewhat bemused; she wasn’t aware of Heinrich seeing anyone... Heinrich quickly said, “Sarah, I’d like to introduce you to Rebekah; Rebekah, this is my younger sister Sarah.” Rebekah stood up and said, “Hello; I’m happy to meet you. Your brother was a hero tonight.”  Heinrich felt a bit awkward, so he said, “I just chased away a couple of ruffians who were harassing her.” Freyda was about to ask a question when she remembered the soup. “I’ve been cooking some vegetable soup most of the afternoon and there’s some fresh bread. Why don’t we discuss this over dinner? I understand that you may have some concern about our food; but I assure you that it is wholesome and clean.” This caught Heinrich’s attention and he sensed a shift in his mother’s voice. She continued, “I learned from my mother how to prepare meals that would satisfy Kashrut.” Freyda looked at Heinrich, Sarah, and Rebekah before saying, “You see, I’m half Jewish. For Heinrich, this was not totally unknown, but he realized there were many details that he did not know about his mother’s family. He felt the plot starting to thicken and was excited to see where it might go.

Note: The links in my last post did not work properly; I have corrected them and they should (hopefully) take you to the first 4 posts in this story. Let me know if you have problems or if you have comments on this story!

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