Saturday, July 14, 2012

Rebekah from Poland

Freyda clapped her hands and said, “Wonderful-let’s eat!” as she led the way into the kitchen as Heinrich brought in an extra chair and Sarah set another place setting. He also helped Freyda bring in the big pot from the cooking fire and set it down in the middle of the table.  Heinrich waited for everyone to get situated before leading them in prayer. “Father, we thank you for this food we are about to eat, and we praise your Name. I ask for your blessing on Rebekah and I trust You will guide her through whatever she came here to do. In Your Name we pray. Amen.” Freyda filled the ladle and looked at her guest; Rebekah turned and smiled, then nodded her confirmation. As the soup filled her bowl, Rebekah said, “Thank you; I’m grateful for your hospitality. I wondered how I would get here.” “Tell us how this all came about, Rebekah; at least in between spoonfuls,” encouraged Freyda. Rebekah did take a few tastes and hummed a hmmm. Then, as Rebekah took a piece of bread, she began, “First of all, I’m from Krakow, Poland. My father, Isaac Koenigsberg, died 5 months ago. He was the manager of a large estate for a Polish noble. Our family used to live in Germany, until the conditions against us became intolerable about 30 years ago.  As my mother and I were going through my father’s things after he died, we came across this journal.” She reached into her bag, withdrew a small book and held it up. “This journal lists the names of several people who were scattered across Germany, Switzerland, and Poland, but it was written in a secret code. We had it examined by someone who understands such things and he was able to decipher most of it. Your father was mentioned in the book and I’ve come here to understand why. Our father traveled throughout Europe, so he could have met your father personally. Still, what all these people have in common is what I’m trying to determine. I traveled to Wittenberg with a friend of our family and only ran into trouble when I stopped to ask directions and was observed by those two men. They apparently followed me and you know the rest of the story.” When the meal was over, and everyone had pitched in to help clean up, Freyda recommended that they all move near the fire to continue the conversation.
Freyda began by saying, “coming here is a rather dangerous thing for a young Jewish girl to do. I’m quite surprised you undertook such a journey.” Rebekah put the few facts the she knew together and replied, “It was probably no more dangerous than what you did when you married your husband.” Heinrich’s eyes met Sarah’s as they both acknowledged the temerity of that reply. Freyda blushed as she thought of what to say, for she knew immediately that she had been matched. She finally said, with an air of respect, “Youth will sometimes go to great lengths to achieve a goal. I guess we both followed it in our own way.” The awkwardness of the moment dissipated as everyone sensed they could be more open with each other. Heinrich was especially impressed with the confidence, intelligence, and attractiveness of Rebekah; he definitely wanted to know her better.
Rebekah finally asked, “I understand that Luther is back; we have been following his exploits and wonder about his affect on Germany.” Heinrich thought he could add something of value, so he said, “Yes, he came back about three weeks ago and immediately held a series of 8 sermons for the town. We all went and found them to be quite interesting.” To this, Rebekah replied rather reservedly, “Luther is no friend of Jews.” This caught everyone’s attention, and they looked at her in concert. “What do you mean?” asked Sarah. “I understand that he’s done some great things and has stood up to some of the most powerful people in Europe, but deep down, he is no better than the root that he came from,” said Rebecca. “How do you know this?” asked Heinrich. All Rebekah would say is, “We have our ways; he’ll reveal his true feelings soon enough.” Heinrich added in Luther’s defense, “He’s translated the Bible into German - I’m sure it’ll come rolling off Gutenberg’s press as soon as he can get it there.” “If only people obeyed it,” said Rebekah. “I’ve been following how you treat each other; the Catholics are killing and torturing anyone who disagrees with them. As Luther breaks apart this monopoly they’ve had, then I’m sure the pieces will start fighting each other. The cruelty I’ve heard about is almost worse than how they treat us.” Heinrich felt that injustice feeling around him again; what could he say that would counter such things?
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. I’m going to ask him about the Jewish question tomorrow. Speaking of tomorrow, what are you going to do Rebekah?” asked Heinrich, searching valiantly for a way to change the subject. “Well, I was hoping to spend some time with your mother to learn about your father and how his name got into this book. That is, if you’ll let me stay here another day, or two?” This was definitely something Freyda would have to decide on, so everyone instinctively looked to her. Freyda replied,  “Rebekah is welcome here as long as she likes. In fact, we better see how we are going to arrange things. Rebekah  do you mind sharing a bed with Sarah? She usually sleeps here in this room; we’ll add some curtains for privacy. At least you’ll have the fire to keep you warm.” “Thank you so much, if it’s alright with Sarah, then it’s fine with me,” said Rebekah. “It’ll be fun! we can make room and I’ll get to learn about another place,” said Sarah excitedly. 
“We have some time before bed, so why don’t we get settled a bit and then I’ll have some cookies when we come back,” said Freyda. Heinrich went to the privy outside before going to his room, changed into a warmer sweater, and combed his hair; Sarah relocated some furniture to get ready for the night. Freyda got some cookies ready and brought a bottle of wine. This was a special occasion and there really wasn’t anything else to drink that was good.
After 30 minutes or so, everyone was back around the fire, which Heinrich had stoked with a few logs. Rebekah had the floor, so she asked, “What has it been like here while Luther’s been gone?” Heinrich began, “Well quite a lot has happened; last fall the Augustinian monks left the order in Wittenberg. Luther had already written against the priesthood, celibacy, and the whole monastic system, so breaking that up seemed the next logical move. But this brought chaos, of course. All of these people with no where to go and nothing to do. There was violence of sorts in the Catholic churches here. Priests were removed and people went on a campaign to remove images and things like that.
And then, before Christmas, the first of the visits by the so-called “Zwickau Prophets” arrived in Wittenberg.  They were led by three men: Storch, Drechsel, and Stübner. And they were influenced by another preacher from Zickau who had a more radical agenda: Thomas Müntzer. They attracted much attention and many new ideas based on their interpretation of the Bible. And then there’s been a lot of talk about a group called the Anabaptists; one of the things they disagree with Luther on is infant baptism. It’s good to reform, but it seems to be happening without a lot of thought, leadership, and planning. Maybe that’s why Luther came back; to put some sense to all of this. He had written a tract warning Christians to guard themselves against insurrection. In January, the city council declared that all charitable contributions would be given to the poor. And then, the pope died, and they still haven’t replaced him.
To be continued...

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