Another Feldheim book by Meir Baram:
The Fateful Mission
A glossary of Hebrew words
appears at the end of I he book.
Copyright © 1987 by
Meir Baram and Feldheim Publishers
All rights reserved.
A young Jew crossed the bridge and approached the gate
to the city of Cologne. Ragged, wounded, more dead than
alive, he collapsed before the two astonished gatekeepers.
They would have thrown him to the dogs, or better yet, left
him to the ravaging Crusaders who were not far behind
thousands upon thousands of them. But because they
thought he might earn them a few coins reward, they
dragged him to the home of the Parnas the benefactor
and head of the Jewish community.
Gershom for that was his name had escaped from
the nearby community of Mainz where the Crusaders had
left a trail of Jewish death and destruction behind them.
He arrived in Cologne with a fearsome tale to tell. Yet de-
spite the urgency of his warnings, the Parnas refused to
believe or to act not until it became clear that further
delay would mean the destruction of the Jews of Cologne.
Brave and resourceful, Gershom endangered his life again
and again as he helped his fellow Jews on a difficult and
dangerous road to partial safety.
The Parnas is a fictional novel, based on careful historical
detail. Far removed from the Jewish life we know, its stark
portrayal of the early Middle Ages is the story of bravery,
belief and Jewish courage,
About the Author
The author, a young scholar and scribe in Bnei Brak, has written
a series of historical novels in Hebrew. A second novel, The
Fateful Mission, has also been translated into English by Feldheim
The year was 4856 (1096 C.E.) a date that will
forever be engraved in the annals of our people as a
time of terror and
slaughter, bravery and martyrdom.
In the dead of winter, the leading nobles and
bishops of France gathered in the city of Clermont for
an urgent meeting with
the pope. "It is a sacred duty,"
proclaimed the pope, "for all Christians to
salem from the Moslem nonbelievers."
The campaign to free the Holy City was sched-
uled to begin at the end of the summer, after the
harvest. But Heaven had
decreed that the terrors of
the First Crusade begin earlier. When the people
heard of the pope's call, they were swept by a craze. In
the middle of
spring, while the grain was still ripen-
ing, they abandoned their fields,
houses, and flocks,
piled their families into makeshift wagons, and set out
on the road.
Goaded by fanatic monks and priests, the ever-
growing mass began to wend its way along the banks
of the Rhine River beyond
the borders of France.
Men, women, and children, in a mass of contrast-
ing colors and costumes, set out on their terrible
march. Nobles and serfs,
monks and murderers, pris-
oners and freemen on foot, in wagons, on horses
and donkeys they all marched together. Displaying
a red cross on the
shoulders of their garments, they
headed, not east, towards Palestine, but
They rallied around two leaders a man and a
woman. The man was a monk named Peter, who
inflamed the mob with his frenzied speeches. The
woman was an ignorant villager who was always
accompanied by a faithful goose
that she had raised.
The masses believed that her goose had been sent by
Heaven to guide them to Jerusalem. Tens of thou-
sands of people marched
confidently in the footsteps
of a goose.
The Jews of France were alarmed by the sight of
the huge, volatile mob that was attracting so many
vagrants and misfits.
Seeing the frenzy that had seized
the ignorant peasants, it was not hard to
lay in store for any Jew who crossed the Crusaders'
But what path would the Crusaders take? In
direction would the goose wander? Frightened,
the French Jews dispatched
urgent letters warning
their brothers in the German kehilloth at the
Rhine of the impending danger.
Only the simple, touching reply of Mainz sur-
vives. The people of Mainz were not worried about
their own fate. "We have
proclaimed days of fasting,"
they wrote, "and we pray for the peace and
the Jews of France." It never entered their minds that
from France to Jerusalem would first lead
northward past Mainz.
But the Heavenly edict had been sealed. The
goose strutted unhesitatingly northward along the
Rhine, and the mob followed
with confidence. With
no idea as to the whereabouts .of Jerusalem, they
stopped in every town along the way to ask whether it
was Jerusalem, the longed-for city.
Although they were disappointed each time, the
rabble continued to march after the goose. It moved
northward until it
approached the Jewish communi-
ties along the Rhine, communities renowned
Jews and gentiles alike. It was then that the monks
through the Crusaders' camp and incited
"Shall we undertake a long and sacredjourney to
fight the Moslem infidels, while we let the Jews here
in our own countries
persist in their stubborn refusal
to accept Christianity?"
The mob responded with unbridled enthusiasm.
They were like dry straw on a hot day; the slightest
spark would set them
The spark was ignited by the monk Peter, who
proclaimed, "Whoever kills a Jew will be absolved of
all his sins!"
The fate of the Jews was sealed. They would
either be converted or killed. And they stood the test
with great spiritual
courage, sanctifying God's Holy
Name by their death.
Four glorious communities nestled on the banks
of the Rhine: Speyer, Worms, Mainz, and Cologne.
They were holy kehilloth,
whose righteous and God-
fearing people were led by the outstanding
of Rabbeinu Gershom Ma'or Ha-gola the Light of
The southernmost of these towns, Speyer, was
first to be reached by the Crusaders. Its Jews were
given a choice: convert, or die. With supreme
they withstood the test. They refused to forsake their
chose instead to sanctify God's name with
their death. The horrible siege and
massacre and the
glorious heroism of the kehilla of Speyer were
recorded by the sages of that generation in the Kinoth
prayers and are
recited every Tisha B'Av.
The northernmost of the kehilloth, Cologne,
where our story is set.
sent out its first hesitant rays and
painted the waters of the Rhine a pale
On the banks of the river, enclosed in its
protective stone wall,
the city of Cologne
began to stir. A watchman climbed up the tower, as he
did every morning at dawn, to scan the horizon in the
light of the new day.
Having convinced himself that
no hostile forces were in sight and no enemy
ened the city's peace, he drew a horn from his belt
and blew a
trill the signal to open the city gates.
Soldiers opened the giant gates and freed
drawbridge. It descended slowly amidst a clanking of
chains and landed
with a heavy thud on the banks of
the moat that lay at the foot of the wall.
No sooner was the bridge in place than the
traveler appeared. He had evidently spent the night
on the bank of
the moat, waiting for the gates to open.
Now he staggered across the bridge.
His tattered clo-
thing was covered with dust, and his tired face was
bruised and scratched. The big hat perched on his
head marked him as a Jew. He approached
with his last ounce of strength, as the soldier at the
eyed him with curiosity, pity and scorn.
"Hey, Jew," he called, "take out a silver
pay the bridge tax. If you haven't got it, don't waste
energy trying to cross. From the looks of things,
your purse doesn't hold
even a battered copper
penny." But there was no reply. Instead, the Jew
stumbled and fell in a faint in the middle of the
Now here was a bothersome problem! Denying
dying Jew entrance to the city because of failure to pay
the tax was an
everyday matter. But his body sprawled
out across the bridge would interfere
with the flow of
"Hans!" the soldier shouted to his comrade
the guardhouse. "Give me a hand." The two soldiers
approached the Jew
and picked him up by the arms
"Why, he's light as a feather," said Hans
amazement. "Let's throw him off the bridge and back
onto the side of
Fritz objected. "He'll come to and retrace
steps, and then he'll fall in the middle of the bridge
again. I'm not
about to trouble myself twice for a
Jewish boy." Indeed, beneath the dust and
could discern the refined, tormented face of a youth.
Hans was ready with an alternative
"Let's throw him into the waters of the moat and be
With that, he began to swing the
boy back and forth, building up the necessary
throw him over the bridge.
"Wait!" shouted Fritz. "That's murder. The
will raise a furor."
"No, they won't," sneered Hans. "Their end
coming closer with every step of the blessed Crusad-
ers. As for
murder, what does he care whether he
drowns today or is butchered tomorrow by
saders' axes? Let's go! One, two, three ..."
"Stop!" yelled Fritz. "I just had a
Quick! Help me carry him to the guardhouse. We'll
his murder to the Crusaders."
They carried the lad to the guardhouse and
him on the stone bench. "Now let's hear what brilliant
through your thick skull," growled Hans
impatiently. "Open your mouth
quickly, for I won't let
a Jew rob me of my seat for long."
"My plan will net you a fine rent for your
and some coins with which to quiet your conscience
about saving a
Fritz leaned out of the entrance and
around to see whether anyone was listening. Then he
drew his head
back in and dropped his voice to a
whisper, "If you cover up my short
absence, I'll run to
the house of the Parnas, the head of the Jewish com-
munity. He'll pay the lad's tax, bring him to his home,
and reward us for our
noble behavior in saving his
Hans's eyes lit up. He looked at his
new esteem and slapped his shoulder
"Fritz, you block-headed genius! You don't
begin to appreciate the brilliance of the idea you
thought up. You
talk about copper pennies that will be
thrown your way, when all the Parnas's
spread out before you!"
Fritz looked confused.
"You have a perfect excuse to enter the
the richest Jew in Cologne. Once inside, open your
eyes and ears.
Then, when the Crusaders enter the
city, we will know just where to go and
what to look
The deal was concluded with an
handshake and mutual shoulder slapping. Fritz
out to the crooked alleys paved with
Arriving at the house of the Parnas, he
and fingered his mustache in confusion. The narrow,
wedged in humbly between its identi-
cal neighbors, did not match his mental
wealth and spoils.
"It must be the way they camouflage their
wealth," he thought to himself. "Very well. I shall rip
the disguise off this
house. Everyone speaks of the
Jews and their treasures. Now I shall know
secrets. In a minute I'll enter a palace of splendor,
and I'll open
my eyes and take note, and when the
Crusaders arrive, it will be mine!"
With a light step he skipped up the two
steps and knocked loudly. The door opened and a lad
waving a long green branch stood in the
Fritz retreated in terror before the raised whip. He
the steps and landed in the dirt. From
there he raised frightened eyes to the
But the youth was no less frightened than
Striking a soldier fulfilling his job was liable to bring
punishment upon all the Jews of the city! He
hastily laid his strange scepter
against the doorpost
and leaped to the street to help the fallen soldier to
Seeing the lad leap, Fritz crouched on the
ground, covering his head with his hands for protec-
tion. It was beyond him
how the youth had divined his
dark thoughts. How did the boy know that he
to enter the house to discover its treasures? Here was
proof that Jews were indeed a nation of
sorcerers, who communicated with the
impurity and darkness! And now, this very moment,
one of them,
this young sorcerer, was lunging at him!
Apologizing all the while, the youth
helped the soldier to his feet. Then he led him back to
house. Fritz thought of the fairy tales of forest
witches who enticed
innocent children into their
"No," he yelled, planting his feet firmly
The bewildered youth looked at him in
"You came to meet with my father, did you not?"
"Yes, that is, no, I wanted ... I
"So please come inside."
Fritz walked unwillingly up the stairs,
youth followed. To Fritz's horror, the youth bent
down and picked
up the giant branch and then closed
the door behind them.
Fritz was trapped in a den of Jews!
AS Fritz grew accustomed to the dimly lit
room, his eyes opened wide in surprise.
Even after staring in all directions,
could not believe what he was seeing. The
strange sight before him
verified all his dark suspi-
cions of Jewish sorcery.
The gold and silver vessels that were said
the room had disappeared as if by magic. Not a trace
was found of
the sparkling diamonds and gleaming
pearls that he had seen in his
the room was miraculously filled with clusters of
greens and flowers!
Green branches were attached to the walls,
lattices of flowering vines hung from the ceiling. A
heady perfume of
colorful spring flowers, accompan-
ied by the pungent scent of forest
branches, filled the
room. Before he had time to recover from the
Fritz was shown into the drawing room.
The drawing room, too, was adorned with
greenery, but here the scent was different not so
intoxicating, to be sure, but far more
enticing. A plea-
sant, delicate aroma of butter pastries and cheese-
cakes enveloped him. Piled high on a big table in the
center of the room were
fragrant delicacies arranged
around a strange loaf of bread, long and flat,
four mounds rising from it.
A man in a baker's apron came out of the
carrying a baking pan just off the fire. His kindly face
from the heat of the oven. He hurried to place
the hot pan on the table and
turned to his guest with a
He greeted Fritz and extended a welcoming
hand. But Fritz, in his confusion, could barely mum-
ble an answer. A hearty
gulp of beer restored his
composure. "Is all this for breakfast?" he asked,
ing to the table.
"Not at all," answered the Jew
"Tomorrow is the festival of Shavuoth, which com-
memorates the giving of our Torah. We follow an
ancient custom and eat
delicacies of milk and cheese
on that day.
"Our holy Torah is likened to milk. Just
as milk is
the sole nourishment of babies and provides all their
our holy Torah is our source of life, and if
we have Torah we need nothing
The gentile did not absorb the lofty idea.
eyes were glued to the mounds of delicacies, and his
"Please help yourself," said the Jew, and
reached for the giant loaf in the center of the table.
"No," protested the Jew. "That is the
bread of the
holiday repast, and it must remain whole until this
Its special shape symbolizes the two breads
that our forefathers offered on
this holiday in the
He appeased Fritz with a selection of
and cakes, and the soldier ate heartily.
"If the Jew only knew that he would not
sit at the
holiday table," thought Fritz, "and eat his special
that the cake and pastries would not be served
to the accompaniment of
festival songs ..."
After Fritz's appetite was stilled, he
his meal with another gulp of beer and roared in
"You Jews have delicious festivals."
"Indeed," the Jew smiled. "And now, would
be so kind as to explain the purpose of your visit?"
Fritz drew himself to his full height and
importantly, "My business is with the master of the
house, and I'll
speak to no one else. Call the Parnas!"
The Jew raised his eyebrows in surprise.
the master of the house."
But a man like Fritz was not about to be
a fool. "Brazen liar!" he cried, stamping his foot. "Do
think you can fool me? I saw with my own eyes
that you are the baker!"
The Parnas burst into merry laughter. He
explained to the soldier that Jews are commanded to
prepare for the Sabbath
and holidays with their own
hands, even if they have an army of servants at
beck and call. "You understand, it is as if we are
awaiting a visit from the emperor."
Fritz did not understand about the visit
emperor, but he did understand that he was standing
Ithiel, the Parnas of Cologne, and so he
began his story about the youth
lying unconscious on
the stone bench of the guardhouse.
The Parnas's face turned purple with rage.
worthless scoundrel!" he cried. "A youth lies uncon-
very life in danger, and you stuff your
mouth with pastries? You could have
told us your story
to begin with and then sat down to your feast!"
Before the soldier could defend himself,
Parnas had already left his seat and begun to rush
orders in every direction.
"Meshulam," he commanded his son, "take
Menachem and run with him to the guardhouse!"
"Meir!" A bearded face appeared in the
way. "Hurry and take one of the carriages to the
southern gate of
He strode to the kitchen, calling as he
"Marlen, put a kettle of water on the fire and prepare
a meat soup!"
"Leon where is he? Run as fast as you
fetch Rabbi David the doctor!"
He retraced his steps and saw Fritz
dumbstruck in the middle of the drawing room,
amazed at the
hurried preparations around him.
"Ah, here you are," he said gently,
sweat that was pouring down his brow. He came over
Fritz his hand. "Please forgive me for my
outburst. I was very upset."
The soldier took the outstretched hand
own. "Sir, you have nothing to apologize for. I should
you why I came first thing. Farewell to you,
and a happy holiday."
"Just a minute," said the Parnas, and
silver coins into his palm. "These are for you and for
good friend. Thank him in my name and in the
name of the community."
Fritz bowed. He was confused and
If the Jew only knew that his friend had tried to throw
youth into the deep water! And if he had only
guessed what wicked thoughts
had brought Fritz to
the house . . .
As he crossed the hall, his head spun from
intoxicating scent of the flowers. "Do the Jews eat
flowers on their
holiday?" he asked.
"No," said the Parnas, amused by the
"We decorate our houses with green in memory of the
of the giving of the Torah, when Mount
Sinai, amidst a barren wilderness, was
grass and flowers."
Fritz scratched his head in confusion and
out to the bustling street. The strange words echoed
in his mind:
Mount Sinai and the Holy Temple;
Torah and flowers. And his nose still
tingled with the
wonderful aroma of butter pastries. "Interesting peo-
ple, these Jews. Not at all bad folks," he thought, as he
pressed the silver
coins in his palm. "What a pity that
every last one will soon be killed by
WITH the clattering of hooves, the creak-
ing of wheels, and the neighing of
reined-in horses, a carriage screeched
to a halt before the quiet house of the
Parnas of Cologne.
Rabbi Ithiel threw the door open and
Meshulam and Menachem carefully lifted the
out of the carriage and carried
him upstairs into a large, darkened room.
could be discerned in the dark. This was the guest
shlichim raising money for yeshivoth and
merchants traveling on
business could get a comfort-
able night's rest
They laid the boy gently on one of the
opened the heavy drapes to let in the morning sun.
The pale rays
flooded the room and bathed the lad in
their delicate light. His tattered,
contrasted sharply with the spotless white linens.
As Meshulam studied him, pity welled up in
heart. Who was this unfortunate youth? From where
had he come? What tragedy had struck him?
he ever recover? His clothing had been sewn of fine,
shiny silk, but
now the precious fabric was torn to
shreds, splotched with blood and covered
dust of the road. He was scratched and bruised, his
Meshulam's thoughts were interrupted by
appearance of the famous Sephardic doctor, Rabbi
David ben Abbu. The
doctor strode into the room
accompanied by Rabbi Ithiel, who carried a basin
steaming water and a white towel. The doctor tied his
wide sleeves so
they would not interfere with his work
and instructed Meshulam to roll up the
so that he could be examined.
Meshulam opened the torn coat and removed
the huge tzitzith. Then as he rolled up the stained silk
shirt, he let
out a cry of surprise. A long, multicolored,
striped rope with innumerable
knots was wound
many times about the boy's chest.
Rabbi Ithiel approached the bed and raised
boy a bit, while Meshulam began to gently unwind the
strange rope. It
soon became clear that this was not a
single rope, but a series of short
ropes tied together. It
seemed to be endless, but finally, it was all undone,
revealing a folded parchment which fell heavily onto
Rabbi Ithiel picked it up. The parchment
filled with crowded writing. "These are Torah chiddu-
whispered reverently, kissing the bundle.
He undid the edges of the wrapping,
startled to find a
sharp knife inside which fell onto the
Ithiel's face turned white, and he bent down to pick
knife, but changed his mind and picked up the
rope instead. He studied it
silently, fingering the silk.
Suddenly his eyes widened in horror. "The rope
made of the sashes of cloaks!"
Meshulam and Menachem looked wonderingly
at the strange rope in the Parnas's hand. Sashes of silk
and satin, wool and
cotton, striped and solid, shiny
and faded, were tied one to another.
A frightening premonition engulfed them.
was the meaning of these many sashes? Where had
they come from? And
why had they been tied
together? What had impelled the lad to wrap them
about his body, and what was the purpose of the
sharpened knife bound in a
bundle of Torah
The doctor, however, was not sidetracked
of this speculation. He began to examine the patient
skillfully. He felt his pulse, listened to his
heart, raised his eyelids and
looked into the pupils,
opened the mouth to examine the tongue, studied the
fingernails, thumped the abdomen, and inspected
the wounds and bruises. Then
he stood up.
"Rabbi Ithiel," he pronounced solemnly,
boy is suffering from complete exhaustion, but aside
wounds he is healthy and well. The
abdomen is normal, the heart sound, and
clear. But the tongue is white and the stomach rum-
extended fasting. Hunger and a terrifying
ordeal have left their imprint, and he is
in a deep
The doctor took a small flask of medicine
his bag to revive the patient, along with vials of oint-
treat the wounds. He gave them to Rabbi
Ithiel together with directions for
their use. One week
of absolute rest, he stated emphatically, was essential
for the cure.
Little did they know how short the youth's