A Difficult Journey

Shmuel had assumed that the Kokab had some good reason for sending him first to Amsterdam. And on the externals it seemed like a good choice. It was an emerging merchant city of significant promise, the sort of place where, if subsidized by the wealthier merchants like himself, a community might actually take root. On the other hand, he had heard absolutely nothing about an actual Jewish presence there, and as he proceeded west across the Mediterranean he was unable to find anyone who had any significant intelligence regarding a Jewish community in the city. His sources, on the contrary, pointed him to Antwerp, which was close by and, with the silting up of the river Zwin, was beginning to take over much of the trade which had formerly gone through Bruges. It was reasonably tolerant, had a large banking establishment, and a very significant population of merchants from Venezia, Genova, and Ragusa. And so Shmuel decided to stop there first.


He was, in the end, profoundly disappointed at what he found. The place was, above all, a port for sugar imported from Spanish and Portuguese plantations, including those to which the enslaved Jews of Portugal he had been working to rescue had been transported. The leadership of the Jewish community understood the issue, but was confident that these Jews would soon be liberated and replaced by more economical and more tractable African slaves, an outlook which was hardly encouraging. Shmuel found no tzadikim there, and wondered that these men had been willing to risk their lives in order to practice their Judaism openly, when they clearly did not understand anything about the Law. Still, he established a small society dedicated to helping Jewish refugees, and with the help of some of the more idealistic children of the donors added to its charter a commitment to work for an end to slavery not just for Jews but for Africans as well.


In all, Shmuel spent about a year in Antwerp, including some brief voyages to Amsterdam in order to investigate conditions there, which turned out, however promising they might become, to be currently even less propitious than those in Antwerp. And he kept hearing about the Kingdom of Poland, where there was a very long history of toleration, and where the Ashkenazim had established a number of thriving communities. And so he prepared a report for the Kokab and made plans for a journey to the East.


This entailed a difficult journey as the more direct land routes through France and Germany led through increasingly hostile territory. Travel by sea was not too much better, as the principal port of entry, Gdansk, was an historic seat of the Teutonic Order and not a friendly place for Jews, though it was now part of the Kingdom of Poland and conditions were said to be improving.


Ultimately Shmuel decided to travel by sea, as it was faster. He loaded up as many spices and woolens as he could and set sail from Antwerp seven years to the day after Miriam’s execution.


The northern climate did not, however, suit him well. Had he not been carrying a truly vast quantity of woolen cloth, he would likely have died of exposure. It had never occurred to him that people would voluntarily live in a place so damp and so cold so much of time. Indeed, by the time he reached Gdansk, he was quite ill. He had, however, been given a letter of introduction to a secret Jew, who went by the Christian name Woytek, trading in salted fish. Weak, feverish, and coughing up blood he made his way to the man’s house.


The man took him in and saw to it that his goods were stored in a local warehouse until he could recover. The house was quite rich and, like the homes of most secret Jews, it was full of Christian religious artifacts. Indeed, when he awoke in the middle of his first night there, he found that he was sleeping under a giant crucifix which, in his feverish state, seemed to be quite literally dripping blood onto his sheets.


That morning the man’s daughter brought him strong tea and rye bread and salted and smoked fish, which he devoured and within a few hours he began to feel like he might be recovering his strength. But when his host came in he insisted on having Shmuel inspected by a physician who, he was told, was also a secret Jew. The physician told him that he had tuberculosis and was not fit to travel. But Shmuel insisted and the physician agreed to treat him noting, however, the medicine would likely make him feel even sicker at first.


This was something of an understatement. Within a few minutes of the first dose Shmuel was feeling dizzy and nauseous and he began to hallucinate again. This time the figure on the cross was not just dripping blood on him, but actually reach down and trying to strangle him.


He had resolved that, secret Jew or not, he could not trust his host with a full account of his mission, and when the man returned later in the day he tried to limit conversation to business concerns. But when the man began questioning him he found that he could not stop himself from explaining his plan to create a network of safe houses leading from Sicily and al-Andalus up to Krakow.


Another dose of the medicine followed, and Shmuel felt even worse. Indeed, he seemed to be losing sensation in his limbs and could just barely move.


Then everything went dark.

Published by:

Anthony Mansueto

Humanity is the desire to be God (Sartre, Jean Paul. Being and Nothingness, 1943/1993: 556). Being finite, we are aware of the infinite and seek it without limit. Being contingent, dependent on other beings for our existence, we seek the power of Being as such and seek it absolutely. Human history is fundamentally the history of this seeking, and of the distinct ways of being human to which it has given rise. Precisely because we are finite and contingent, our seeking takes place under definite material (physical, ecological, demographic, built-environmental) conditions which shape the ways which emerge, as well as the social structures through which we pursue them. As something set apart we call this power of Being the sacred but it is, in fact, the warp and woof of the world in which we live, driving secular projects as much as those which understand themselves as religious. My work is centered around an effort to engage the sacred analytically, interpretively, normatively, creatively, and practically. My scholarship is centered around an effort to restore theoria to its original sense as an encounter with the sacred which is empirical, analytic, interpretive and normative, and specifically to understand the diverse ways (including secular ways) in which humanity seeks (to be) God in the context of the material realities out which they emerged and the structures through which they operate while engaging these ways normatively, contributing to the transhistorical deliberation around what it means to be human. As an artist I work first and foremost with narrative, telling stories which, blending elements from magic realism, science fiction, and fantasy, highlight humanity’s engagement with the sacred. But I also create paintings, photo collages, and illuminations and am experimenting with alterealities, games which actually change the world, and which engage all these elements in an interactive context. And I work in the medium of food, creating alchemical cuisine which at once encodes meaning and transforms those who consume it —especially in community. My scholarly and creative work aims at charting a new way of being human, at making the sacred present to people in their day to day lives, and at helping people situate their lives and their decisions, individual and collective, in he context of the ultimate aims of human life. My practical engagements with the sacred cross the boundaries between teaching and mentoring, leading and organizing. As a teacher, it is my aim to cultivate free, creative human beings and engaged citizens with a mature spirituality who have the ability to make rationally autonomous decisions regarding questions of meaning and value, to understand their particular calling and how to realize it, to build and exercise power in service to the common good, to learn the difficult spiritual lessons that come from both success and failure in our lives, and thus to pursue and progress along the way they have chosen. In addition to teaching in formal academic and community based settings, I mentor individuals using a process which integrates deep listening with both traditional spiritual disciplines and secular insights drawn from organizing and business strategy. I cultivate both scholars and practitioners, and challenge my students to cross the boundaries between these two domains. As an academic leader I have worked to promote liberal education for students from working class and ethnic minority communities, to make the institutions I serve into centers for deliberation around questions of meaning, value, and public policy, and to restore (nonconfessional, pluralistic, but still normative) engagement with the sacred to its rightful place in the academy. I see this academic leadership as an extension of my broader work as an institutional organizer helping organizations and institutions find their way, and working to build, conserve, and transform them in service to the Common Good. My work as an organizer has also included significant contributions to interfaith dialogue, deliberation, and organizing, from building financial and institutional support for interfaith organizing through catalyzing public deliberation around questions of meaning and value across diverse spiritual and civilizational traditions. I bring to this engagement a substantial record of publications, including nine books and numerous articles in both scholarly journals and journals of public opinion setting forth my vision and strategy, decades of experience teaching the liberal arts to students from working class and ethnic minority communities, a history active civic engagement, primarily in interfaith dialogue, deliberation, and organizing, and a range of institutional leadership roles in the academy including department chair, program director, dean, and campus leader with responsibility for all community college functions for a large rural area. As I continue my formal institutional engagements as an academic administrator over the next several years, I am also looking to build support for my creative work and a consulting practice mentoring individual leaders and organizations across the academic, religious, and civil society sectors. Supporting my work through Patreon is a way to contribute to making this possible while getting a glimpse of my creative process, free or discounted artifacts from my alterealities, and the opportunity to benefit from my mentoring and consulting practice at much reduced rates.

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