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Chapter Four Humans Rising













Family Strife


















The Hebrew way is marriage and family.  In that order.  There is little room to rearrange those pieces in your life.  To do so shakes the underpinnings of a race already camped out beside the precipice of extinction.  It is in the blood of the people. Survival itself depends upon the one message that must be breathed into the ear of every Hebrew child: Run!  Jews are only Jews as they are fleeing the rain of Gentile arrows. It is the sworn duty and birthright of every mother and every father to stand between their child and the heathen sword.  One mother.  One father.  Forever. One mother and one father who come together under a garland of branches to pledge to work and live and create life together and hold fast to the holy secret that will eventually be revealed to all their people.



In that order.


For a long time Miriam did not know she was pregnant. She attributed the bad dreams to Bracha’s tragedy, news that devastated her for weeks.  She had always hoped to have a happy marriage and family just like Bracha’s, so it was natural to lose sleep when her friend, her mentor, her idol had been struck a second time by death’s lightning.  As he body grew more tender the terrifying flow of blood had simply ceased.  It had come in a kind of tide or rhythm–though she was never able to pin it down exactly.  But now it had stopped completely.

She became even more quiet and withdrawn than ever. Yusef noticed it when he came to visit. “Have I offended you?” he asked one day while Miriam sat on a stone before her house, pitting berries.

A kind man, she thought, and wondered just why his gentleness should annoy her the way it did. “You could never do that, Yusef.” She regretted her answer at once, because she knew it sounded as if she didn’t care enough about him, that he didn’t mean enough to her for her to take offense at anything he might do. Men were such fragile creatures.  Huge arms and chests.  They could lift anything. But still utterly breakable.

Every chance he got he found Miriam alone, made small talk about things she might be interested in, all the time becoming more convinced that Miriam was either angry with him or sorry their families had accepted each other. She never wanted to admit even to herself that might be true.  He was hard-working, honest, attractive, tall and lanky, with a thick masculine beard and deep-set olive pit eyes. Eyes always affected her. It was the first thing she noticed in other people. Sometimes, though, the way he looked at her–like an animal in a trap, imploring mercy, using eye contact to avert the flaying knife, it irritated her. Sometimes he simply looked too weak to protect her. But Yusef was a good man and learning a trade, even if he was a bit of a shy dreamer.

Did every girl go through this? Did every woman view her man now and then as a total stranger–someone she had promised to live her life with, give her life to, her only life, in a mad moment, and then look at him and wonder what in God’s name she had gone and done?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be swept away by an exotic stranger on horseback?  If only she could talk to Bracha.  Bracha was Yusef’s age, nineteen, and an experienced woman of the world. And now a widow.  But Bracha couldn’t be counted on now. Evrum’s shoes had been slashed with a sword and put in front of his door.  Bracha was coping with the children, about to give birth to another and all the while fighting Roman seizure.  And the rest of the women just kept flashing pitying glances at each other.  Auntie Na, Becca and Malkah, could she tell them what was going on inside her head and inside her body?

One day she found Becca in the yard in the midst of desert scrub trees, a palm and fowl waddling around her feet. Becca, three women wide, was draining the blood of a dying chicken into a wooden bucket. “Of course you haven’t been sleeping, my love. None of us have slept in months. That means you’re a woman.  You can smell the danger.”

“What danger?”

“The danger for Jews.”

Miriam had no interest in politics. As Becca spoke on Miriam stared into the chicken’s tragic, unblinking eyes. She followed Becca into the house as the huge woman dropped the bird into a vat of boiling water over a fire.  In a moment she yanked the bird out, tore its feathers off and hung it on a peg near the fire. The bird continued to stare at Miriam.  “When Jews are not sleeping at night, God is planning another attack.”

Auntie Na, like a mother to Miriam, made no more of Miriam’s unease than Becca had, so the girl stopped seeking answers.  She didn’t tell them about her sore breasts.  Besides, they never let her get that far. Oh, where was her mother now that she needed her? What was happening inside her body? What was wrong with her?


Yusef’s father, brothers and uncles, even his mother smirked and joked whenever the subject of Miriam came up.  They all enjoyed poking fun at his shyness. At this rate there would never be a marriage.  And certainly not a family. Miriam was giving him a hard time. Well, that might mean she was woman enough to marry.  And it might give Yusef a little something to work for–a reason to develop some ambition. Thank God people always needed looms to spin on or doors to close out the weather and the world. Yusef would always eat, but not because he was aggressive or motivated.  Not at all. It would be because people would always come to him for things they needed that he could provide.


As the weeks went on Miriam had less energy for her chores.  That is when the women started to notice. Everyone in the house heard here crying out in the night, but the next morning, when questioned, she couldn’t remember what had frightened her or what she had been dreaming about.  She began to feel strange and even giddy. As the hot winds began to blow she felt calm and oddly happier. Everything she saw–a blossom, a rat, everything excited here.  She felt flushed.  What in the name of God was happening?

One day during a moment of courage as he carried her bundles through the stalls of the market place, Yusef said, “Do you think me a fool?” He shouted over the screaming hawkers, “I’ve asked you over and over what is wrong. I’ve sought the advice of my father and brothers and my whole family.  My uncle has even been speaking to your aunt.  But now I know.”

“Know what?” Miriam asked, unnerved.

“That you do not really want to be my wife.  That you have eyes for someone else.”

“Yusef, that is not true!” she defended herself. Or was it? Her secret fried came to her mind.  He was so strong.  He helped her carry water, told her tales of Rome and the real world. “I do want to be your wife. I am going to be your wife.  Next year.  You know that.  Everybody knows that.”

But you don’t talk to me anymore.  Anyone could see how it is.”

“Yusef, my dear Friend,” she said tenderly as they walked away from the market toward home, followed closely by Malkah who pretended not to hear every word, if I have not been myself, forgive me.  And it is true.  I have been feeling strange, but it is not because of you.”  But wasn’t that a lie?

“You see? It’s true.  I was right.”

She was defending herself. She was confused. “And certainly there is no one else in the world.” Another lie.

All around the animals circled and squawked in the dusty street. “And if I have been at all unkind or unfair–do pardon me.  I have not been the same since the day or the death of Bracha’s husband. From now on, I’ll be better. I promise.”



Three or four months later it was clear.  She was fine, healthy and very pregnant. By then she was visibly thickening.  And when she told them there had been no blood in months, the screaming and the interrogations began. Yusef was hauled up before the family.  He appeared before a scowling crowd of Miriam’s relatives.  He swore upon his mother’s life that at most there had been one or two kisses, and that he never brought shame upon either family. Of course she was to be his wife, no matter what had happened. His job was to protect her, even if a tragic violation had occurred.

Miriam remained in her room, frightened, confused and guilty.  Countless questions, looks, accusations.  What did they want? Of course she wasn’t having a baby.  Didn’t men and women have to come together in some way for a baby to come? And now she was supposed to be bearing a child. Impossible.  Unless she was right all along and babies just came, of their own accord, when they wanted to.

But no, of course not.  You had to be married. That was the way.

They took her to the rabbi      “Young woman, what do you have to

say for yourself”? He asked her lurid questions she only dimly understood.  He dismissed her as a liar when she had nothing to say, other than she could not be having a baby. If she was having a baby, how did it get there? Miriam never went out alone–at least that’s what they thought. The fact is she often took walks alone. To fetch water. To smell the blossoms.  To think.  That’s how she had met her friend, the soldier. But as far as she could remember, he helped her carry water, talked to her about the world he came from, Rome, the capital of the world. That was all there was to it. And when she was allowed to walk with Yusef, it was to the market and back. Always in daylight. Almost always with Malkah’s sharp eye right behind them.

Everybody had a theory.  Miriam’s pregnancy was the juiciest scandal either family had ever seen.  Brach’s tragic bereavement was eclipsed in the lurid light of Miriam’s shocking revelation.

Innocent Miriam.

Miriam herself was dumbfounded.  It couldn’t be. It was too confusing, and the trauma of meeting so much hatred where she had known only love was more than she could bear.

“Just tell the truth, Miriam, and everything will be all right. The women, the men, even the Rabbi.  What truth did they expect to hear? She had no idea what they wanted her to tell them.  If she had known she would have said anything, just so they wouldn’t hate her. She still didn’t believe it, but somehow she was going to have a baby.

She and Yusef were forbidden to see or communicate with each other from the moment the midwife stood up, wiped her brow with a greasy hand and said, ‘This woman is with child.”


Even if Miriam, ignorant, earthbound wretch, struck in the head with a magic wand, remembered nothing, Yusef had known it all along.  But who? It didn’t matter.  He felt like an idiot anyway. In a way he was secretly proud that people thought the baby was his. At least they would think he could be aggressive when he had to be.  But no. His life was shattered with scandal and defeat.  Could he still make Miriam his wife? If not, would he ever have a family? There were other girls in the world, but long ago he had put Miriam by his side. Was that no longer a possibility? He didn’t really want to imagine himself in the arms of any other woman.  Besides, he didn’t believe anyone else would take him seriously. Everyone thought his schemes were silly and impractical, and some of his beliefs were downright seditious.   Now that he had been made a fool of by Miriam, his eligibility had suffered even further damage.





Relentless, baying, sniffing, like hounds on the search the women were, but they found no clues.  No piece of rag with even a faint scent.  Nothing. The sun rose and set, but still no solution to the mystery.

One morning as the men had finished prayers and were eating boiled eggs, Yusef appeared at the door, looking more sunken and sleepless than ever.  Framed by the doorway, he seemed merely like a stripe of white robe topped with a fringe of black hair.

The men growled, tightened their fists.

The women, crouched in a doorway from another room looked on. And how dare Yusef come uninvited to this house? Had he had a burst of courage?

“I have not slept in many nights,” he said.  He must have been practicing this speech all the night while not sleeping. He pretended not to hear the men as they grumbled their disapproval and outrage.  “Miriam was supposed to become my wife. I wish to follow this plan. But you must know that I have done nothing wrong, nor have I shamed your family in any way.”

Somehow everyone in the family believed him, surprised by this burst of courage. If he wasn’t responsible for this mess, who was? The women knew exactly how Yusef’s mother felt about the whole thing.  She had made that publicly clear in the marketplace weeks before. His father, however, must have permitted his son to come to this house. Yusef was not a defiant young man.  He must have had his father’s blessing.

He swore he had never touched Miriam in an improper way. Somehow she had known another man and he had to face it, live with it the rest of his life. He couldn’t just fling her to the wolves. She was the only girl who would even look at him.  She was the best woman in the world. Whoever had gotten to her could not spoil her goodness.

Why was she lying?  Who was the rat she was trying to protect? What should he do?

He knew what he was going to do.

These houses were always so dark, even at breakfast time. Even in the morning. The windows were so small.  To keep out the thieves as well as the sun.

Miriam’s father rose from his seat and all the eyes at the table looked down.  A quiet, bitter man whom life had cruelly roused from sleep, he worshipped his God the way he paid taxes, with resentful obedience.  His face as not unkind, but now his whole body seemed to be folding, scrunching, and launching itself through his voice in a pointed attack not only toward Yusef, but toward everything that had ever challenged his faith. He had once wanted a large family to insure his immortality.  But with a dead wife and no other prospect at the moment….

“You have hurled dung through the windows of my house,” he shouted at Yusef. “You have harmed my daughter and my whole family.”

“With holy respect, I have harmed no one, except through my cowardice in not speaking up before.  If you consent to this marriage, I will earn a place for Miriam and me, and the child that is to be.  Let the true father remain ever a mystery.  The child will be mine.  It will bear my name, and when I am no more, shall inherit my humble possessions and my trade.”

He felt proud, manly, standing up before this family. It was exhilarating, even if it was foolhardy and self-destructive.

Suddenly Miriam pushed her way through the crowd of women and flung herself against Yusef, pounding his chest and shoulders with her fists.

“No! Not you, too,’ she cried. ‘I won’t marry you.  How dare you come here to trade and barter me like a rabbit?”


By now Miriam She didn’t feel wrong at all.  She felt quite good, in fact. She was no longer pale.  Her appetite had come back, and, after much soul-searching, she had concluded she had done nothing wrong.  If babies got put there in the way they say the women got put there, then she had no baby growing inside her.  And if there was a baby there, it had been put there by one way only: magic.

Every day Yusef changed his mind. At times he thought Miriam should be publicly flogged, or hanged. On other days he felt his overwhelming love for her return. Shy and forgiving, he wanted her anyway.  He would cruise through the busy streets, feeling eyes upon him, and then secretly plan her execution himself. Then his stomach would cramp with remorse.  Late in the evening he would walk into the desert, up into the hills and watch the flickering fire signs of life–far enough away from the city to hear nothing but the grating cry of insects.  He would think and think and think. This was no way to begin a married life.  It was backward.  All wrong.



Both families were split on what to do.  There were those that felt, well, what could you do, the black mark had been made. These things happen. Now let the young people marry, and in time, tongues would tire and they could earn their way back into respect. Others, in both houses, believed that no good would ever come from such an unholy union. The only hope was to take Miriam south to her cousins by the sea.  There, when her time came, the child could be taken from her, given to a childless couple and told that its real parents had been killed by the Romans.  As for Miriam and Yusef, they should never look upon each other’s faces again.

Becca, however, refused. “So what” she told Auntie Na. ‘Of course these things happen.  Why should everyone be punished? She is a sweet girl and she will make a good mother.”

Auntie Na was acting mother to Miriam. All the women were, of course, but Auntie Na had formally taken over the responsibility when Beth had died.  So Miriam’s plight pained Na directly.  Becca could scold or defend, the others could criticize and slap, but Auntie Na made the final decisions about what to do next.

“Yes,” said, as her fist struck the table like a gavel, we will plan as we have. Even if we cannot forget the whole thing. “Miriam’s father made the decision, but only with Na-Na’s blessing.  He blamed his wife for dying, blamed himself, and of course, blamed Yusef. Through all the interrogations, he avoided Miriam.  It was all too painful. Yusef’s mother was the most condemning.  Miriam was afraid of her now.

The whole world was spitting at her, and now she knew they were going to submit her to torture.

Seated at the table in the flickering light of evening candles, they all muttered the same word: Munyah.


©Copyright Michael Lutin 2018