Sephardic Farewell/Ancestors by Joseph Hobesh - HTML preview
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Don Fernando de San Miguel
Elena Maria de San Miguel hurried home, her heart heavy and her mind confused. Her rendezvous with Joshua Halavi had turned into a complete fiasco. She had intended to explain her reasons for rejecting him again. As gently as she could, she tried to explain why she could not disobey her father’s wishes.
To tell Joshua she loved him, but could not marry him. The edict tangled the situation, the lives of the San Miguel family would never be the same. They would never be a part of the
When Joshua revealed his plans to convert and sail with Colon, she sensed a small possibility that her father might accept Joshua after he converted. But the thought of him sailing away caused her emotions to erupt. She might never see him again, he could be lost to her forever.
She had to prevent Joshua from leaving with that madman Colon, but how? Unless her father’s mind could be changed, Joshua would insist on leaving. Then it occurred to her, Antonio, her brother, had never spoken ill of Joshua. They had even been friends. He might be persuaded to intercede on her and Joshua’s behalf. Although she was uncertain her father would accept any argument she or Antonio might put forth. His heart had been hardened against those whose practice of Judaism was completely open. Monsignor Abate had seen to that. Reaching her decision, Elena felt a small amount of relief, and a great amount of anxiety. Thinking of her father’s reaction to what she was going to propose sent shivers down her spine.
The thought of Joshua gave her the determination to pursue her plan. Remembering him so sad, and the fact that she might never see him again, gave her renewed courage.
Her immediate concern, however, was explaining to her mother why she had left her duenna, slipping away to meet Joshua.
* * *It has come, all that I feared, all that I tried to overcome by proving my worth to his majesty, King Ferdinand, to Monsignor Abate, all in vain. Now I must decide, leave or become what in my heart I cannot accept. These beliefs are not mine, am I a Jew or a Christian? Why must I make my family suffer so!
Don Fernando de San Miguel pondered his plight and was filled with anxiety. He and his family were so vulnerable now.
The edict severely altered the plan he had proposed to Monsignor Abate. It would bring the wrath of the church down upon all of those whose practice of the Christian faith was questionable.
Conversos, or New Christians, it did not matter, the Inquisition would assuredly investigate them all, some would inform to save themselves or their families.
Don Fernando’s family had practiced the Jewish faith in secret since the time of his grandfather. His father tried to explain why this was so, but he had been too young to comprehend.
Time had dulled his feelings for the religion. The edict made him realize how dangerous the practice of Judaism had become.
In spite of the plan he had began with Monsignor Abate. Now he fully understood the consequences he and his family would have to face, continuing the secret practice of Judaism as New Christians.
The edict would force us to live as true Christians, or leave España .
I choose to remain. My family will be bound by my decision. Life will become easier. No longer having to sneak about, practicing one religion in darkness and secret while the other in false pretense. We become acceptable, all barriers removed. My son and daughter able to live their lives to their fullest without fear of persecution. This was the hope of the plan I proposed to Monsignor Abate.
I will not allow my family to be subjected to the horror that occurred so many years ago. When my grandfather, Don Pablo, who was born Samuel Ben Coloma, may he rest in peace, was forced to become a Christian, my father, Francisco, hid this story from me 4for many years. His reasons for this were his own. Nevertheless little by little, I came to understand why. My grandfather suffered greatly for his beliefs. I remember my father’s terrible sadness as he related the tale to me.
* * *Seville 1391
April, and Seville was truly beautiful that spring. Full of blossoming orange and nut trees, warm sweet breezes blowing off the Guadlquvir river. For Samuel, the only child of Avraham Ben Coloma, the year 1391 marked his thirteenth birthday. The 24
year he was to become bar mitzvah. Literally “Son of the Covenant,” and a full member of the Jewish community.
The ceremony was to take place at Shabbat, the Sabbath services at the Cal, where Samuel would be conducting the morning services. He then would be called to the bema for his first aliyah, the reading of the weekly portion from the Torah—
The Five Books of Moses.
His studies for becoming bar mitzvah had been relatively easy. Hachham, Rabbi Mordachi, was not the taskmaster that some of Samuel’s friends had made him out to be.
Learning the trope for chanting the weekly Torah portion turned out to be the hardest part. Thankfully his mother was a musician of sorts, and able to instill an understanding of the cantillations required to properly chant the portion. His father would be furious if he found out his wife, a female, had chanted the Torah portion along with her son. Samuel vowed he would never mention it, his mother made light of it. It was her feeling that someday in the very distant future women would be able to do almost everything men could.
The whole family was looking forward to the fiesta following the morning services of Samuel’s bar mitzvah. All the special dishes that were being prepared. The visiting relatives that would be there, along with all of his and his family’s friends.
Life is good, Samuel thought, except, for the ill will the Christians professed at times. Especially when the priests or visiting monks preached their hateful sermons, depicting Jews as devilish or diabolical. Samuel had not experienced any real hatred or physical abuse. His father being so well known in the district, brought Samuel’s family into contact with some of the more prominent members of the Christian community. And in this way the family was somewhat protected.
Samuel continued on his way to the rabbi’s house for his last lesson before his bar mitzvah. Approaching the rabbi’s street, he heard someone calling him. He turned and saw it was Juanito, 25
one of his Christian friends, son of Juan Pacheco, the sack-cloth weaver. Juanito approached Samuel with a worried look on his face.
“Samuel, I just came from church, Fray Vincente has returned. He plans to preach a sermon condemning the Jews again for their beliefs.”
Samuel frowned. “Do not worry, Juanito, it happens all the time. Especially after Fray Vincente has been unsuccessful trying to convince us that we are practicing the wrong religion.”
“This time I think he is planning to incite the townspeople, have you heard what happened at the synagogue of Cadiz?”
“No. Tell me.”
“Well when the rabbi of Cadiz finished the—how do you call it, the service for the morning?”
“Yes, I think that’s it, well when that was finished, and the people were getting ready to leave, Fray Vincente ordered everyone to remain. He accused the rabbi of preaching blasphemy. When the rabbi tried to protest, the priest had him taken away. He is being held in prison awaiting an inquisitor.”
Samuel hesitated before speaking, deep within himself he felt the stirrings of some ominous disaster approaching but said nothing.
Thanking Juanito for his news, he repeated his invitation to him and his family to attend the bar mitzvah fiesta.
Juanito heartily agreed, and bid him good-bye. “Via con Dios, mi amigo.”
Samuel continued on his way to the rabbi’s home. He was warmly greeted by the rabbi’s wife as she ushered Samuel into his study.
Rabbi Mordachi, deeply absorbed in the large book in front of him, looked up, his dark eyes glowing. “Ah, buenos dias, Samuel.
How are you? I have been reading some passages from the Book of Exodus. The portion you will be chanting this Shabbat, have you been studying them?”
“Yes, Hachham,” Samuel answered.
“And do you understand the Parsha portion, do you have any questions?”
Samuel paused before answering, yes he had questions but not about the Torah portion. He was thinking about what Juanito had described to him. He decided to ask the rabbi if he knew what had occurred at the synagogue of Cadiz.
“Rabbi, you have heard what happened at the synagogue of Cadiz.
The rabbi thought awhile before answering. “Yes,” the rabbi finally replied. “And this concerns you, Samuel?”
“Shouldn’t it, Rabbi? Why do they hate us so? Why do simple people like the Pacheco family accept us as we are? Do not demand that we pray as they do, or accept the customs that they follow. Yet educated priests and bishops insist that we accept the Catholic religion, regardless of our feelings and desires. I would have thought that educated church members would respect other religions.”
The rabbi was thoughtful for a moment, then said, “Samuel, you are familiar with our history. As Jews we have been blamed for almost every misery afflicting mankind. Human beings need someone to blame when misfortune strikes, when life becomes a struggle from birth to death. Our beliefs differ from the Christians, we have not accepted their Messiah. Therefore in their eyes we are evil. The monks and priests use these differences to incite the people so that they will not look deeply into the lives they are forced to live. Trust in our God, Samuel.
He will show us the way to a life of prosperity and happiness.”
Samuel did not reply, it was all so confusing and troublesome. Although the rabbi had tried to comfort him, he still could not shake off the gloom that had settled upon him.
He began chanting his lessons, while the rabbi nodded in approval. When his lessons were completed, the rabbi told him he was doing very well, and that he looked forward to his bar 27
mitzvah. Samuel thanked him and left for home and his midday meal.
The walk home was uneventful and Samuel arrived at home at the same time as his father. His mother greeted them both exuberantly. “Ah, venidos a bien tiempo—You have arrived at a good time. The meal is ready, come we will eat,” she said, ushering them both into the dining room.
Samuel, still feeling the affects of what he had heard, spoke to his father of his encounter with Juanito, and his talk with the rabbi. Avraham Ben Coloma assured his son that there was nothing to worry about. But he secretly worried. Since the death of King Juan, the clergy had been preaching more venomous sermons against the Jews.
Inciting the people to destroy synagogues, to physically drag the Jews to the baptismal font, and murder them if they refused conversion. King Juan, while he was alive, had been able to provide some protection for the Jews of his kingdom.
The King’s successor, an invalid son, was ineffective in exercising control over the Church, and was unable to curb the excesses of the Church’s more zealous members, this was the source of Ben Coloma’s uneasiness.
Trying to change the subject, Ben Coloma asked Samuel how his studies were going. Whether Rabbi Mordachi was succeeding in properly teaching him the trope for chanting his portion of the Torah.
Samuel smiling, glanced at his mother said, “Yes, very well, Papa, but I think you and Momma have been my best teachers.”
To which his father answered, “Momma sings beautifully, doesn’t she?” And with a wink of his eye began the blessing over the bread for their midday meal.
* * *The Sabbath morning of Samuel’s bar mitzvah arrived in a rush. His mother sweeping through the house directing the 28
servants and cooks, helping his father get dressed and admonishing Samuel to hurry.
The walk to the synagogue was uneventful, and they arrived just as the morning Psalms were being chanted.
The synagogue was full of people, the men downstairs, surrounding the bema. The women upstairs in the balcony overlooking the entire synagogue. The cover on the Aaron Hakodesh, the Holy Ark where the Torah scrolls were kept, had been presented to the synagogue by the Ben-Halavi family in honor of Samuel’s bar mitzvah. The cover depicted the Lions of Judah embroidered with gold thread, surrounding the Torah scrolls. Fresh flowers adorned the Aaron Hakodesh as well as the bema.
Samuel began chanting the preliminary morning services, and when they were completed, began the Torah service. As the congregants began to chant the prayers prior to removing the Torah scrolls from the ark, along with the singing, a low rumble could be discerned coming from outside the synagogue. It soon grew to a roar. Then without warning, the synagogue doors were smashed open. An angry crowd of hundreds threw themselves on the defenseless worshipers.
With knifes, clubs and axes they hacked and stabbed and beat, men, women, children. It did not matter, the mindless killing caused the blood to flow as if from many fountains.
When the killing frenzy had been satisfied the mob raced from the synagogue to the street in search of new victims. Black plumes of smoke could be seen rising from many buildings.
Pent-up emotions held in check for many years exploded with disastrous results for the Juderia of Seville.
* * *Samuel awoke in a small cubicle, a burning candle providing the only light. A crucifix was affixed above the straw cot he lay 29
in. Where was he, was it all a bad dream? Had the horror he witnessed really happened?
He tried to rouse himself but was unable to do so. His head throbbed and his right arm stabbed him with pain every time he moved it. Then reality hit him like a bolt of lightning, it had happened, it was true, where was his family? Were they all right? Were they hurt? Were they alive? He had to know, he had to find out. The shock of all that he had witnessed washed over him and he began to sob, the only words running over and over in his mind— Yitgadal v’yidgadash shema rabba—the opening lines of the mourner’s Kaddish. The prayer recited over the dead.
Trying as hard as he could, Samuel was unable to lift himself from the cot. Exhausted he fell back into a painful sleep.
* * *Brother Pablo, kneeling in prayer at vespers, was heartbroken and sad, the violence that had occurred today was incomprehensible. To think that human beings could harm other humans in this manner was beyond understanding for him. He prayed to the Lord Jesus that the souls of those taken by this madness, although not Christian, would be allowed to enter His Kingdom.
He also prayed for some solution to the problem of the boy he had rescued at the synagogue of the Jews. The son of Avraham Ben Coloma, the well-known physician. How was he going to tell Samuel—this child—that his whole family had been killed?
That there was nothing left for him, nothing.
Pablo completed his prayers and rose, behind him someone entered the chapel. He turned, standing there was Fray Vincente waiting for him to finish.
“Good evening, Brother Pablo, I hope I did not interrupt your prayers. I have something very important to discuss with you.
The young Jew you rescued today, he is the son of Ben Coloma, the physician?”
Brother Pablo, not recognizing what Fray Vincente wanted with the boy, thought carefully before answering.
Fray Vincente had a bizarre past. Born in Seville in 1350, he was afflicted at an early age with Godly inspirations.
Browbeating other children for crude behavior, fasting twice a week, experiencing visions, he was convinced, his was the voice of the Lord. As a Dominican Friar he traveled from town to town crusading against the Jews, who he characterized as the worst enemies of Christianity. Once he achieved the priesthood, his solution to the question of the Jews was conversion. Either by persuasion or forcibly, his preference was for the latter.
Brother Pablo, on the other hand, believed in the Christian ideal of loving one’s neighbors. In trying to convince non-believers by talking, discussing, and by example. He felt Christians should slay Jews with reasoning not with the club or axe. Pablo had had many disputes with Fray Vincente concerning some of the ways conversions had been taking place.
Today’s events had filled him with great sadness.
Yet he was powerless to change anything. Fray Vincente’s influence with the hierarchy of the church and the court, made him too powerful an adversary.
Brother Pablo looked deeply into the priest’s eyes, something lurked there. Something he could not clearly see, but whatever it was. He was concerned, and fearful.
Filled with sadness Pablo quietly answered, “I believe he is, but I am sure you are the last person he would want to see or speak to. The madness that occurred today should not have happened. His whole family is gone, as is practically all of the Juderia. I am sure the boy will blame the Church. How can the bishops and cardinals atone for what has happened? Why do we continue to massacre these people, yet expect them to willingly convert?”
Fray Vincente glared at Pablo, his tall thin frame visibly shaking with anger.
“Don’t you question the wisdom of the Church, the Jews will be converted! How and by what means will be shown to us by our Lord Jesus, the Pope, the King himself, once the Moors have been completely driven out of España, and, and—” Fray Vincente realizing he was beginning to rant, stammered, took a deep breath and began speaking in a more rational manner.
“Have you spoken to him yet, are the boy’s injuries very serious, will he live?”
Brother Pablo’s loathing of Fray Vincente was barely hidden, as he answered, “He will live but he needs much rest. I advise you not to disturb him so that he may fully recover.”
“Yes, yes, I will not disturb him until he is well enough. It was most unfortunate that all of his family was slaughtered, Ben Coloma was a most learned physician. But these stiff-necked Jews will not learn, they continue to mock the true religion.
Today’s events are only God’s will; they will learn. Christianity is the only true religion. The boy’s conversion must be fittingly done. We must set a proper example. I was considering taking responsibility for this myself, you have no objections to this, do you?”
Brother Pablo now became alarmed, the look in Fray Vincente’s eyes was glazed, almost trance like. Pablo could almost feel the lust poring forth from them. Incidents of priests having certain carnal appetites for young boys had been rumored to have occurred throughout the Church. Rumors that were true, according to Brother Pablo’s information. He himself had administered treatment to one such victim. But to his distaste was unable to punish the priest responsible.
Brother Pablo felt a strong obligation to protect Samuel.
Conversion was one thing, but carnal abuse was an abomination, and he would not allow it.
He answered Fray Vincente’s question by stating that the boy’s injuries, although painful, were not life threatening. But that he should not be disturbed until he was fully recovered.
Fray Vincente reluctantly agreed. Said he would be back in a 32
week, stressing how important it was for him to take responsibility for Samuel’s conversion.
Brother Pablo bid the priest good-bye and decided to check on Samuel’s condition, thinking of ways of explaining to Samuel the destruction of his family, and dreading what he now felt was inevitable. Samuel’s approaching conversion under the tutelage of Fray Vincente.
Arriving at Samuel’s room, he found him in a deep sleep. Not wanting to disturb his rest, Pablo decided to wait until the morning to be the bearer of such sad news.
* * *Samuel awoke, his head throbbing, and his right arm aching.
Bright sunlight filtered through the small opening that served as a window. Forcing himself to swing his legs over the side of the cot, he was now well aware of what had happened. He had to get to his home, find his family.
Fighting the dizziness that almost caused him to faint, he rose from the bed and tried to stand, struggling for a foothold he realized he was naked. None of his own clothes were anywhere to be found. Reaching for the thin blanket on the bed, he draped it around himself and sat back down.
Weak with pain, distraught, and frustrated he was unable to leave. Samuel lay back down and began to sob softly.
Samuel’s young heart was filled with despair. He instinctively knew that his family was gone. Their lives taken in the most horrific way imaginable. A terrible anger began to arise in him, as he pounded the cot with his fists.
There was a soft knock on the door and someone entered the room. Samuel looked up and saw Brother Pablo. His anger boiled over into a ferocious rage, rushing the monk with all the strength he could muster. Legs kicking, arms flailing, he managed to land a flurry of blows before Pablo was able to subdue him.
Quietly, and calmly, Pablo began telling Samuel what had happened, and what he was now faced with. Samuel stopped his struggling and listened. Pablo sadly explained what happened to Samuel’s family, the Juderia, and all the other Jewish communities in the area. They were gone! Beginning to sob himself, Pablo continued, many had saved their lives by converting, unfortunately Samuel’s family had not been given this choice, they had been the first victims of the mob’s frenzy.
Rebuilding the community, if it occurred at all, would take years.
The monk’s words hit Samuel with the force of a stallion’s kick. His instincts had been correct, but the effect of the actual words caused him to turn and retch. As he began moaning,
Brother Pablo hugged him, led him to the cot, and gently laid him down. With tears in his eyes, Pablo whispered, “Rest now, Samuel, the Lord will provide you with the help you need, trust in Him.”
* * *A week passed and Samuel’s physical injuries, began to heal.
He could move his arm and head with less pain, and the bruises on his face were fading. But the mental anguish he had suffered was too much to endure. He refused to eat, spent all of his daytime hours just staring into space.
Brother Pablo, although concerned, felt this was a temporary condition. Once Samuel accepted the fact that what had happened was real, not some horrible dream, he would respond and accept the situation as it really was.
Pablo spent the entire week gently consoling Samuel, talking to him, feeding him, and tending to his physical wounds.
Attempting to make him understand his only refuge now was the Church. Gently raising the subject of conversion, and stressing the similarities between the Jewish and Christian 34
faiths. How the roots of one religion, became the beginnings of the other.
Slowly Samuel began to react. Although young in age he was extremely intelligent, and had a mind that reacted quickly. He began to realize, he would be responsible for what happened to him—for the rest of his life!
First and foremost he needed to mourn, for his family and the entire Jewish community destroyed so savagely. The normal period of shiva, the ritual of mourning, lasted for a full seven days, saying prayers with a minyan—a gathering of ten males over the age of thirteen. Concluding with the mourner’s Kaddish.
Alone without prayer book or minyan, Samuel began to chant prayers he could remember. What came to his lips almost as if the rabbi or his father had been at his side was “Adonai roee lo achsar— The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…. ” Psalm 23, the traditional concluding prayer of the memorial service.
Pablo, realizing that Samuel was praying, decided not to pursue any further discussion, and left. The friar understood the need for Samuel to perform the ritual of shiva. That a minyan would not be present, did not lessen Samuel’s need to perform the ceremony.
* * *The week of mourning passed slowly for Samuel. Free to wander about the monastery, which was located on a small hill overlooking the river, he continued to pray, remembering happier times with his parents, and slowly the sadness began to diminish. He continued to pray, concluding all of his prayers with the mourner’s Kaddish. A prayer which did not in any way allude to death, but simply sanctified God’s name and His Holiness. He experienced much comfort while reciting the prayer, even though a minyan was not present to recite it with him.
Along with the prayers, Samuel began trying to clarify in his own mind, what options were open to him: He could accept conversion, become a true Christian, let the Church take care of him. Alternatively, he could outwardly convert to Christianity, but continue to practice Judaism in secret. He had heard his father and the rabbis talk of the “courtyard” a number of times.
He was familiar with the methods secret Jews used to hide their true beliefs. Life as a Converso might be a viable situation for him—if there was any chance of rebuilding the Jewish community!
Suddenly, it occurred to him. What he really wanted was revenge, someone to pay for the horrible things done to his family. One name stirred him, Fray Vincente. Was he responsible for what had occurred? Juanito had mentioned the incident at the synagogue of Cadiz. How could he tell who was really responsible for what had happened that fateful day?
What would he have to do to accomplish what he really wanted? How could he punish those who were responsible for the terrible acts that had been committed? An almost impossible task to accomplish, he believed, but one he must attempt even though he felt so alone and helpless.
Slowly, ideas began to take shape. First he had to find somewhere he could live. The monastery would do as a temporary place of shelter until he finalized his plans. Then he would leave, the rest would come to him he was sure.
Pablo visited only once during the week Samuel was in mourning, spoke to him briefly, trying to decide if his mental outlook had improved. Judging that it had, the problem now was to convince Samuel that conversion was his only salvation.
Prepare him for his encounter with Fray Vincente, who had repeatedly visited the monastery during the time Samuel had been recovering and mourning.
Fray Vincente’s constant badgering about the boy had been a source of considerable irritation to Brother Pablo. He must have a decision from Samuel today, he thought, or Fray Vincente would certainly take matters into his own hands.
As he entered Samuel’s room, he softly whispered, “How are you today?”
Samuel, looking at the monk and feeling an inkling of kinship, answered, “I am much better today. How are you?”
Gratified that Samuel was finally responding Pablo readily answered, “I am well thank you. Have you concluded your prayers of mourning?”
“Yes,” Samuel answered.
“Have you given any thought to some of the plans we talked about, do you want to consider some of the choices?” Pablo asked.
Samuel, not certain how he should answer the monk, decided to find out as much about him as he could. “What is your name, Brother, do I know you?”
“I am Brother Pablo. Friar of the blessed Monastery of San Pedro, I don’t think we ever met before.”
“The monastery, is it far from the Juderia?”
“It is in the Plaza de San Salvador, about one league from the Juderia.”
“How did I get here, did you bring me here?”
“Yes,” answered the monk.
Pablo began to explain to Samuel what had happened on that dreadful day. The mobs incited by some of the priests, and encouraged by Fray Vincente, shattered the gates of the Juderia destroying everything in their path.
“When I found you at the synagogue, I thought you were dead, but as I examined you closer I realized you were still breathing. Evidently someone had placed you behind the ark, out of harm’s way. I decided to bring you to the monastery, to avoid the mob that was still raging in the Juderia, and get help for your wounds.”
“I am sincerely grateful for all that you have done for me Brother Pablo. But my heart is heavy, my loss is almost too much to bear. The monsters that have committed these terrible things must be punished.”
“And they will be,” Pablo answered, “they will be judged by our Lord Jesus and if found guilty they will be damned to Hell!”
“Damning them to Hell is not punishment enough for those who committed this terrible outrage. They must be made to pay in this world.”
Samuel was now beginning to feel his anger again. Pablo, his face contorted with the pain he felt, quietly said, “My son, do not let your heart seek revenge, it will only bring you more sorrow.
Let us teach you the ways of our Lord Jesus, to seek forgiveness and peace.”
Samuel, hearing those words, angrily thought, How can this monk talk to me of forgiveness when my family has been so cruelly massacred, my whole life so drastically changed? Decided, he would not convert, he was a Jew and he would remain a Jew. Even if it meant he would have to leave the monastery sooner than he planned.
He would find a way to support himself, and he vowed that those who were responsible for the death of his parents would somehow be punished. Samuel was grateful to the monk for having cared for him while he was injured, but he had to make him understand what he needed and what he intended to do.
“I thank you again, Brother Pablo, for all that you have done for me. But I cannot and will not convert. I will leave the monastery as soon as I can. It is not that far from where I once lived, and maybe some of my relatives or family friends survived the madness that occurred. If not, I am able to read and write and not completely helpless.”
Brother Pablo, although disappointed that Samuel refused to convert, was truly concerned about his welfare. He was well aware of Fray Vincente’s influence and his ability to have his way. Vincente could make life very difficult for Samuel, he might even try to forcibly convert Samuel. Or worse force him to go to the Church of Cadiz. And God only knew what would happen there.
Pablo felt it was most important to dissuade Samuel from leaving the monastery until he was completely well, and a definite means of supporting himself. Fray Vincente would be a considerable problem, but Pablo felt he could put him off until Samuel left. Or at least until Samuel reconsidered conversion here at the monastery.
“Samuel, there is no need for you to leave so soon, you are welcome here. Be sure that you are completely healed. Take some time to think about your future, I can make some inquiries, 39
and maybe find some work for you. Our Lord will provide what you need.”
Samuel thought about this suggestion, and although wary, decided to accept the monk’s offer.
“Thank you, Brother Pablo, I will stay for a while longer. But I ask you to please, cease any further talk of conversion.” The monk smiled gently, nodded his head in approval, and thought, How like his father he is.
Samuel spent the next few days enjoying the quiet comfort of the monastery, it was a truly beautiful place, serene and restful, overlooking the city and river. In the distance th e Alcazar, the 12th century Moorish castle, could be seen. Becoming familiar with some of the other monks, Samuel spoke at length with them, and Brother Pablo about his plans. His desire to become a physician, follow in his father’s footsteps, and what he hoped to accomplish. The anger he still felt, he kept to himself. Those responsible for the sad events of his life would pay. This was undeniably, the focus of his thoughts.
Samuel’s refusal to convert and his desire to leave the monastery were only part of Pablo’s dilemma. Fray Vincente was coming to the monastery almost every day, checking whether Samuel had healed sufficiently to allow him to start his conversion.
Pablo had done his best to forestall Fray Vincente, but today he felt that any excuse offered would only enrage the priest.
Enrage him to the point where he would just drag Samuel off to the baptismal font without any preparation and forcibly convert him.
As he was pondering the situation, one of the younger monks, Brother Michael, entered Pablo’s study and advised him that Fray Vincente had arrived, and was ranting on about Samuel. Pablo asked the younger monk to show the Father in as he tried to prepare himself for the onslaught that was to come.
Fray Vincente, beside himself with anger that he was visibly shaking, thought how dare that upstart monk prevent him from 40
doing what he felt was his God given duty regarding the Jews!
The boy would be converted today; he would feel the strength of the true church. From this day forward, he would become a true Christian, or know the pain of the lash.
At that moment he spied Brother Michael approaching him tremulously. When the monk reached Fray Vincente, he spoke barely above a whisper, and asked the priest to follow him to Pablo’s study.
Noting the monk’s awe of him gave Fray Vincente much satisfaction and calmed him a bit. When shown proper respect, which he felt was his due, reinforced his beliefs in his ways.
Brother Michael ushered Fray Vincente into Pablo’s study and quickly left. Sitting behind his writing table, Brother Pablo quickly arose and offered Vincente the only chair in the room.
The one he had been sitting in.
Pablo again began to explain why approaching the boy at this time was not a good idea. He was swiftly cut off by Fray Vincente, who felt the monk—disrespectful in the past—was patronizing him now.
“I do not want to hear your excuses, Brother Pablo, where is the boy? I will baptize him myself, and he will leave with me.”
Pablo tried to repeat his explanation, but was abruptly cutoff.
“WHERE IS THE BOY!” Vincente shouted.
Pablo, realizing that the only thing he could do now was to allow Fray Vincente to see Samuel, experience for himself the boy’s revulsion at being forced to convert.
“Calm yourself, Vincente, his quarters are in the south wing.
I will take you there. You will be able to see for yourself why rushing to convert the boy will not work.”
Fray Vincente became livid at these words. How dare this Jewish child refuse the true church. How dare he even question what was to be done, what must be done.
Following Pablo to Samuel’s room, through the meditation gardens, Vincente’s emotions were boiling over. Cutting a switch from one of the birch trees, Vincente angrily thought it 41
would be useful if his powers of persuasion were questioned by Samuel.
Brother Michael, on delivering Fray Vincente to Pablo’s study, had stopped to inform Samuel that the priest was there to see him, and that he should prepare himself. Michael had mixed feelings about Samuel. Although he was sympathetic for his loss, he felt that too much attention was being paid to him. He was just a child, so why all the fuss? Fray Vincente’s temper was to be avoided at all costs, Michael thought, leaving to attend his other duties.
Samuel hearing the priest’s name became alert. Why was he here? What was he planning? As Samuel was considering these thoughts the door to his cubicle was thrown open and Fray Vincente rushed in, shouting, “Sea est por la passion de Nuestro Señor…This is for the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ and for the remission of our sins,” and struck Samuel across the face with the switch he had cut.
The blow drawing blood caused Samuel to turn and back away. Fray Vincente continued to lash at Samuel, hitting him several more times on the neck and arms. Samuel retreated to a wall of the cubicle, and with his back to the priest reached up along the wall trying to protect himself. As he groped along the wall his fingers felt something solid; grasping the crucifix at its base, he swiftly turned and swung at Fray Vincente with all his might, inflicting a blow to the priest’s head, causing him to collapse in a heap.
Fray Vincente lay there in silence, blood oozing from the wound. Dropping the crucifix, Samuel stared in horror. Had he done this? Had he actually struck and killed another human being?
He had to get away, run, for if they caught him now they would surely punish him in some terrible way.
Samuel ran right into the arms of Brother Pablo. Hearing the ruckus, he had rushed to Samuel’s cubicle. Pablo began to speak but uttered just one word “Dios,” crossed himself and just stared 42
at Fray Vincente’s bloody body, too shocked to prevent Samuel from breaking away and continuing his flight. Kneeling down to examine the priest, Pablo could not detect any signs of breathing, blood continued to flow from the wound.
Pablo called for help, and with Brother Michael’s assistance carried the lifeless body to a nearby chamber. Brother Pablo now was able to carefully examine Fray Vincente. He was dead! Of that there was no doubt. He cautioned Michael to hold his silence regarding what had happened. Pablo, after administrat-ing last rites, now began contemplating how to explain to the authorities the death of the priest. Samuel fled the monastery grounds and continued to run, his mind in turmoil. Where could he go? What would he do? He set out for the Juderia. If he could get there somehow he would manage, somehow he would survive!
Juan Pacheco, the sackcloth weaver, toiled in his small shop, operating the weaving loom in the expert fashion his father and his father before him had. Juan had learned the art from his father, and his son Juanito would learn it from him.
Juanito watched his father operating the loom trying to determine how he was able to move so quickly. When he was distracted by a tapping at the door. Looking up, his father nodded for him to see who was there. Opening the door, Juanito recoiled in fright and amazement, standing there was Samuel covered in mud and sweat. “Dios mío—My God,” Both father and son uttered simultaneously. “Come in, come in,” Juanito said as he ushered Samuel into the shop.
“We thought you had been killed in the riots, where have you been, what are you doing here?”
Samuel could utter just one word, “water.” Juanito rushed to fetch some, returning to fetch more as Samuel hungrily drank down cup after cup. When his thirst had been satisfied and the Pacheco family settled. Samuel began to relate what had happened to him since the rioting, what had occurred a few hours ago and the events leading up to his hasty departure from 44
the monastery. He had no one to turn to, he explained. He needed their help, and any news they might have of his family.
Any who might have survived the riots. Samuel realized he was putting the Pacheco family in grave danger. But felt he had no other choice. He faced a terrible punishment, his life hung in the balance.
Juan observed Samuel, as he began to describe the day’s events. Listening to Samuel speak, evoked a flood of memories for Juan.
The Ben Colomas, although Jews, had always been gracious to the Pacheco family. The father, Avraham the physician, was the kindest of men, and had always been fair in his business dealings with Juan.
When Maria, Juan’s wife, became deathly ill, Avraham and Samuel’s mother, Sarah, spent many hours trying to nurse her back to health. To no avail, she finally succumbed to the malignant growth within her body. It was the Ben Colomas who helped pay for her burial and provided much solace to Juan and his son.
Samuel and Juanito became very good friends. Though Samuel was educated, he never made Juanito feel inferior. They had had many good times together.
Juan also remembered the sad burial he had performed just one month ago. Samuel’s parents! Hoping to be of some help to the Ben Colomas, he had gone to the Juderia. Only to come upon the gruesome discovery of their bodies in the synagogue of the Jews.
Both had been bludgeoned to death, and left where they had fallen. Juan arranged to have the bodies transported to the Jewish cemetery. Which, thanks to Jesus, had not been harmed by the rioter’s rampage. Burying them both, with the help of Juanito, in a common grave. A crude wooden Star of David marking the gravesite. Now here the boy turns up alive and in desperate trouble.
Juan found himself faced with two unenviable tasks. First to inform Samuel of his family’s fate. Second to find some way of preventing the authorities from discovering him. The circumstances surrounding the death of Fray Vincente would surely bring the prosecuting attorneys of the Holy Office to the monastery, to the city. Questions would be asked, all of the surrounding areas would be under scrutiny.
Juan feared for his and Juanito’s safety. Samuel would have to leave but where, he could not just send him away without some kind of help.
Thinking hard for some kind of solution to Samuel’s difficulty. Their own as well, just having Samuel here put them at great risk. Juan considered sending Samuel to his cousin, Luis Lopez, in Cordoba, far enough away from Seville yet close enough to travel to in a matter of days. Then he remembered Luis’ hatred of Jews. His constant talk of Jews being devils disguised as human beings. Samuel could never pass for a Christian, he knew nothing of the catechism. And if questioned in detail by Luis, he would quickly be found out. No, he could not send him to Cordoba.
Then Juan recalled Samuel’s description of Brother Pablo and the monastery. How Pablo seemed so eager to help him. Juan was well acquainted with the monk, knew he bore no hatred for the Jews. He was well known in Seville for his gentle ways. Juan sensed Brother Pablo’s strong feelings for the boy. And although the incident had taken place at the monastery, he felt Pablo would protect Samuel in any way he could.
Now he had to convince Samuel that Brother Pablo was his best, his only means, of avoiding the awful punishment he would receive if he was brought before the prosecutors of the Holy Office.
Samuel, listening to Juan’s proposed solution, became fearful. How could he approach Brother Pablo for help? He had killed the priest, there was no denying it. Regardless of the fact that he was protecting himself. He had swung the crucifix in 46
anger. Being a Jew only made the situation worse.
Juan, in an effort to assure Samuel, began to tell him some of things he knew about Brother Pablo. How he helped the poor and sick, his attitude towards the Jews. How he admonished those who wanted to harm them.
“Surely he will feel some kind of pity for all that has happened to you,” Juan suggested.
Samuel, tired, confused and heavy of heart, no longer able to discuss anything coherently, finally agreed.
It was decided that Juanito would go to the monastery the next day with a message for Brother Pablo. Juan also thought it best to postpone telling Samuel about his parents until the next day.
* * *The next morning dawned bright, sunny and heavy with dew. The chirping birds awoke Samuel, the dread he had gone to bed with still lingering in his mind.
Hearing Juan preparing the morning meal, Samuel got out of bed, and tended to his bodily needs. After washing and dressing he went to help with the meal preparation.
“Good morning, Samuel,” Juan greeted him. “I hope you slept well.”
“As well as I could considering all that has happened. Has Juanito left for the monastery yet?”
“No, he is fetching some wood to warm our meal. He will leave after we eat.”
“What kind of message will Juanito take to the monk?”
Samuel cautiously asked.
Juan considered for a moment then simply said, “Only that you are here and asking for his help. There is no need for you to dwell on what has happened, it is done. You cannot change the past. Your father and mother would have wanted you to go on with your life, Samuel.”
As soon as Juan mentioned Samuel’s parents he regretted it, recalling the second task he had to perform.
“What did Brother Pablo tell you about your parents?” Juan asked.
“Only that they had been killed. The synagogue destroyed along with most of the Juderia. Have you heard anything! Do you have any other news!” Samuel anxiously cried.
“Only sad tidings, Samuel, your parents were killed. I was at the synagogue and saw them. Juanito and I buried them in the Jewish cemetery not more than a month ago.”
Overcome by a flood of emotions, Samuel felt a bitter hatred of Christians. Especially for those who had committed this awful act. But along with hate, Samuel experienced a great affection for the Pacheco family. Christians! Who had acted so selflessly. Unable to adequately express himself, Samuel fell silent. Juan continued to prepare the meal and said no more.
Juanito returned, his arms full of wood. Noting the somber mood of his father and Samuel, he placed the wood in its bin, sat down at the table, and silently waited for the morning meal to be heated. No one spoke as the meal was served and eaten.
* * *Juanito enjoyed his walk to the monastery of San Pedro, the weather was warm and pleasant the walk not too long or arduous. Samuel’s predicament saddened him greatly. He was glad to be of some help. The whole situation puzzled him greatly, why was there was so much hatred of the Jews? Yes they were different in how they prayed, lived, their strange rules for eating. But they were still human beings. It was all too much to think about. Juanito’s innocent mind could not grasp all the contradictions of the world he lived in.
Surprised at not having seen any officials heading to or from the monastery, Juanito expected the death of the priest would have caused more of a commotion.
The message his father had instructed him to deliver to Brother Pablo was simple and direct: “The boy is here and needs your help.” Juanito had memorized it. Cautioned not to mention Samuel by name, and to guide the monk to the house. Most important, he was admonished, the message was to be delivered to Brother Pablo alone and not to anyone else.
Reaching the monastery entrance gate as the bells were chiming terce, Juanito bowed, crossed himself, and entered the grounds. Everything appeared to be calm and quiet. Searching for someone to direct him to Brother Pablo, Juanito was suddenly grabbed by the scruff of his neck and roughly turned around.
“What is your business here, boy?” a very large monk demanded.
Barely able to speak, Juanito managed to explain his need to see Brother Pablo.
“Brother Pablo is it, eh!” the large monk uttered, dragging Juanito along. “I’ll take you to him myself, just to make sure you stay out of mischief.”
In a few minutes they were in the Meditation Gardens, standing in front of Brother Pablo, who had been meditating while sitting at one of the many benches scattered about the gardens. Bother Pablo was earnestly praying for a way to solve his predicament over Fray Vincente’s death. Even though he had managed to convey the impression that what had happened was an accident—Fray Vincente had stumbled, fallen, and struck his head, thereby avoiding, by others, close examination of the facts—he was still fearful, that if Samuel were found, more questions would be asked. An official investigation would certainly be initiated then! He had to find the boy, he prayed that he was all right!
His thoughts were interrupted at the sound and sight of the large monk dragging along a small boy. Could it be Samuel?
Momentary elation gave way to speedy disappointment, when he spied Juanito.
“Brother Benito, who have you got there?”
“Someone who says he has a message for you.”
“Well we should not keep him waiting, what is your name, boy, and what is this message business about.”
Rubbing his neck, Juanito looked warily at Brother Benito.
Not wanting to speak to anyone but Brother Pablo, as he been instructed, he quietly said, “The message is for your ears only, Father.”
Sensing some urgency in the boy’s voice, Pablo asked Brother Benito to leave them. When the large monk left, Pablo asked Juanito to tell him what the message was. Juanito repeated from memory, word for word: “The boy is here and needs your help.”
The words stirred Brother Pablo, “the boy” could only mean Samuel.
“What is your name, and who sends this message?” Pablo asked.
“Juanito, and my father sends this message.”
“Juan, the sackcloth weaver.”
“Christian, Jew or Converso?”
“The boy of the message, what is his name?”
“My father will explain, he hopes you will come to him as soon as you can.”
Pablo now became hopeful, if Samuel was at the sackcloth weaver’s home some solution might be at hand.
“Juanito, you will take me to your father’s house now, I will leave with you in a short while, wait here.”
* * *As the church bells chimed the hour of None, Juanito and Brother Pablo approached the Pacheco home.
“It is very close now, Father, near Calle Sin Puertas.”
The afternoon sun had warmed them and they were both hot and thirsty. Juanito was gratified that the monk had not asked any more questions about why he was being summoned. He merely followed along.
Juan and Samuel, who had anxiously been waiting for some news, were startled when Brother Pablo followed Juanito into the house. Samuel, seeing the monk, rushed for the door, but was restrained by Juan.
“I come in peace, Samuel, to help if I can. I wish you no harm.”
Pablo cried out, “How can you or anyone help me? I am doomed, my life is finished.”
“Do not despair, Samuel. Brother Pablo comes in peace, at least listen to what he has to say,” Juan asserted.
“Señor Pacheco’s words are apt, Samuel, there is a solution to your dilemma. Although it is a solution that will require a great effort on your part. An effort I feel, that you must undertake if you are to survive. It will require a great sacrifice on your part, one you may not be willing to fulfill. But listen carefully, Samuel. Your life and the lives of all of us, depends on your agreeing to all that must be done.”
Samuel, although uncertain, began to realize that the monk truly wanted to help him. Although he was not quite sure why.
Thoughts of why of Pablo was helping him had arisen at the monastery, but Samuel had not mentioned them. Now he felt that understanding Pablo’s reasons for what he was doing was not important. Samuel would make the sacrifices that were required of him. His life depended on it. He would agree to do whatever Brother Pablo was going to propose.
After a light supper Brother Pablo outlined his plans. He would go back to the monastery tonight and return in three days. Samuel was to prepare himself for a journey to Toledo.
Juan and Juanito were to teach Samuel all they knew about the Christian religion. Beginning with the sacraments.
After four days of waiting, Samuel began to despair that Brother Pablo would ever return. He even tried to memorize the seven sacraments and their meanings that Juan had tried to teach him. But as the days passed he grew listless, refusing any further study.
On the evening of fourth day at the end of Vespers, Pablo returned with Brother Benito, some clothes and a quantity of dried meat and bread. He explained that affairs at the monastery had delayed him, that now time was of the utmost importance.
Samuel would be baptized in the morning without any arguments. And leave the next day for Toledo. Brother Benito would accompany him and take him to the home of Don Jose de Alverez. A letter from Pablo, that Samuel would carry, explained everything to Don Jose.
* * *The dawn broke cloudy and chilly, Samuel awoke with a start. The little sleep he had provided little rest for him. The first prayer he had learned as a child, and probably the last he would say on the approach of his death, turned over and over in his mind . Shema Yisrael— Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Would he ever declare those words in the synagogue or with a minyan again? With a heavy heart he prayed for the souls of his parents. For God to give him the strength, to allow him to endure whatever was to come.
“Are you awake, Samuel?” Juanito softly called out.
“Yes,” he answered.
“Father Pablo waits outside, you are to go to him.”
Trembling, Samuel proceeded to do as he was told, stepping outside he saw Brothers Pablo and Benito waiting at the side of the house. Pablo beckoned Samuel to approach. Benito held a pail in his arms.
“You may think baptism is a foolish ceremony, Samuel. But without its performance, all that I am doing for you would have no meaning.”
Brother Pablo then helped Samuel remove his shirt. And began the baptismal sacrament, chanting.
“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, I baptize you, Pablo de San Miguel,” he said, sprinkling Samuel with water from the pail Brother Benito held, Pablo continued the ceremony.
Samuel shivered as the cool water ran through his hair, thought about his new name. Pablo de San Miguel. How strange, he thought, the monk had named him after himself.
Pablo! Did this ceremony mean he was now a Christian? He felt no different. The words spoken meant nothing to him. I will do what I have to do. I will go to Toledo, endure whatever Señor Alverez requires of me. But I will return to Seville someday, the faith of my father and mother remaining in my heart. Memories of them shall give me the strength to survive.
Within the hour, accompanied by Brother Benito, Pablo de San Miguel was on his way to Toledo.