Moacyr Scliar (1937-2011) — Escritor brasileiro-judio/Brazilian-Jewish Writer — “A Balada do Falso Messias”/”The Ballad of the False Messiah”

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Moacyr Scliar

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Moacyr Scliar

          Moacyr Jaime Scliar nasceu no bairro do Bom Fim, em Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, a 23 de março de 1937. Filho de imigrantes russos judeus, o escritor resume, na sua pessoa e em grande parte de sua escrita, a dualidade típica do brasileiro nato, criado na cultura brasileira e herdeiro de uma bagagem cultural judaica-europeia. 

          Em 1962, formou-se pela Faculdade de Medicina Federal do Rio Grande do Sul. Como médico principiante, fazendo suas rondas por uma casa (“lar”) de judeus idosos, em Porto Alegre, Scliar começou a ouvir e armazenar histórias individuais de um passado coletivo, no qual se encontravam suas próprias raízes.

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Moacyr Scliar

         Moacyr Jaime Scliar was born in the Bom Fim neighborhood, Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, in March 23, 1937. The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Scliar shows in his person and in the greater part of his writing, the typical duality of a native-born Brazilian, raised in Brazilian culture and inheritor of European-Jewish cultural baggage.

          In 1962, he graduated from the Federal School of Medicine of Rio Grande do Sul. As a young doctor, making his rounds in an asylum (“home”) for the Jewish aged in Porto Alegre, Scliar began to listen to and collect individual stories from a collective past, in which he discovered his own roots.

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“A Balada do Falso Messias”

          A narrativa se desenvolve em dois níveis de representação ficcional: o convencional, com um entrosamento tradicional de locais, datas e estados de ânimo: “comprimidos na terceira classe. Chorávamos e vomitávamos naquele ano de 1906” e o surreal, pelo qual Scliar faz com que se aproximem, aos imigrantes do século XX, no Rio Grande do Sul, Shabtai [sic] Zvi e Natan de Gaza, duas figuras do século XVII.

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“The Ballad of the False Messiah”

         The narrative develops on two levels of fictional representation: the conventional, with a traditional mix of places, dates and moods: “packed together in third class. We wept and were seasick in that year of 1906”; and surreal, by which Scliar brings together the twentieth century immigrants in Rio Grande do Sul with Shabtai [sic] Zvi and Natan of Gaza, two figures from the seventeenth century.

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Notes from:

Regina Igel. Imigrantes Judeus/Escritores Brasileiros:  O Componente Judaica em na Literatura Brasileira. São Paulo: Editora Perspectiva, 1997, pp. 61-62.

Regina Igel is Professor of Portuguese, University of Maryland.

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Sabbatai Zvi
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Natan de Gaza/Nathan of Gaza

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“A Balada do Falso Messias”

Vai pôr vinho no copo. Suas mãos agora estão enrugadas e tremem. Mas ainda me impressionam, essas mãos grandes e fortes. Comparo-as com as minhas, de dedos curtos e grossos, e admito que nunca o compreendi e nunca chegarei a compreendê-lo. Encontrei-o pela primeira vez a bordo do Zemlia. Nesse velho navio, nós, judeus, estávamos deixando a Rússia; temíamos os pogroms. Acenavam-nos com a promessa da América e para lá viajávamos, comprimidos na terceira classe. Chorávamos e vomitávamos, naquele ano de 1906. Eles já estavam no navio, quando embarcamos. Shabtai Zvi e Natan de Gaza. Nós os evitávamos. Sabíamos que eram judeus, mas nós, da Rússia, somos desconfiados. Não gostamos de quem é ainda mais oriental do que nós. E Shabtai Zvi era de Esmirna, na Ásia Menor – o que se notava por sua pele morena e seus olhos escuros. O capitão nos contou que ele era de uma família muito rica. De fato, ele e Natan de Gaza ocupavam o único camarote decente do barco. Então, por que iam para a América? Por que fugiam? Perguntas sem resposta.

Natan de Gaza, um homem pequeno e trigueiro, despertava-nos particularmente a curiosidade. Nunca tínhamos visto um judeu da Palestina de Eretz Israel – uma terra que para muitos de nós só existia em sonhos. Natan, um orador eloqüente, falava para um público atento sobre as suaves colinas da Galiléia, o belo lago Kineret, a histórica cidade de Gaza, onde ele nascera, e cujas portas Sansão tinha arrancado. Bêbado, porém, amaldiçoava a terra natal: “Pedras e areia, camelos, árabes ladrões…”. Ao largo das ilhasCanárias, Shabtai Zvi surpreendeu-o maldizendo Eretz Israel. Surrou-o até deixá-lo caído no chão, sangrando; quando Natan ousou protestar, demoliu-o com um último pontapé.

Depois disso passou dias trancado no camarote, sem falar com ninguém. Passando por ali ouvíamos gemidos… e suspiros… e suaves canções. Uma madrugada acordamos com os gritos dos marinheiros. Corremos ao convés e lá estava Shabtai Zvi nadando no mar gélido. Baixaram um escaler e a custo conseguiram tirá-Lo da água. Estava completamente nu e assim passou por nós, de cabeça erguida, sem nos olhar – e foi se fechar no camarote. Natan de Gaza disse que o banho fora uma penitência, mas nossa conclusão foi diferente: “É louco, o turco”. Chegamos à ilha das Flores, no Rio de Janeiro, e de lá viajamos para Erexim, de onde fomos levados em carroções para os nossos novos lares, na colônia denominada Barão Franck, em homenagem ao filantropo austríaco que patrocinara nossa vinda. Éramos muito gratos a este homem que, aliás, nunca chegamos a conhecer. Alguns diziam que nas terras em que estávamos sendo instalados mais tarde passaria uma ferrovia, cujas ações o barão tinha interesse em valorizar. Não acredito. Acho que era um bom homem, nada mais. Deu a cada família um lote de terra, uma casa de madeira, instrumentos agrícolas, animais.

Shabtai Zvi e Natan de Gaza continuavam conosco. Receberam uma casa, embora ao representante do barão não agradasse a idéia de ver os dois juntos sob o mesmo teto.

– Precisamos de famílias – disse incisivamente – e não de gente esquisita.

Shabtai Zvi olhou-o. Era tal a força daquele olhar que ficamos paralisados. O agente do barão estremeceu, despediu-se de nós e partiu apressadamente. Lançamo-nos ao trabalho.

Como era dura a vida rural! A derrubada de árvores. A lavra. A semeadura… Nossas mãos se enchiam de calos de sangue. Durante meses não vimos Shabtai Zvi. Estava trancado em casa. Aparentemente o dinheiro tinha acabado, porque Natan de Gaza perambulava pela vila, pedindo roupas e comida. Anunciava para breve o ressurgimento de Shabtai Zvi trazendo boas novas para toda a população.

– Mas o que é que ele está fazendo? – perguntávamos. O que estava fazendo? Estudava. Estudava a Cabala, a obra-prima do misticismo judaico: o Livro da Criação, o Livro do Brilho, o Livro do Esplendor. O ocultismo. A metempsicose. A demonologia. O poder dos nomes (os nomes podem esconjurar demônios; quem conhece o poder dos nomes pode andar sobre a água sem molhar os pés; e isso sem falar da força do nome secreto, inefável e impronunciável de Deus). A ciência misteriosa das letras e dos números (as letras são números e os números são letras; os números têm poderes mágicos; quanto às letras, são os degraus da sabedoria).

É então que surge em Barão Franck o bandido Chico Diabo. Vem da fronteira com seus ferozes sequazes. Fugindo dos “Abas Largas”, esconde-se perto da colônia. E rouba, e destrói, e debocha. Rindo, mata nossos touros, arranca-lhes os testículos, e come-os, levemente tostados. E ameaça matar-nos a todos se o denunciarmos às autoridades. Como se não bastasse esse infortúnio, cai uma chuva de granizo que arrasa as plantações de trigo.

Estamos imersos no mais profundo desespero quando Shabtai Zvi reaparece.

Está transfigurado. O jejum devastou-lhe o corpo robusto, os ombros estão caídos. A barba agora, estranhamente grisalha, chega à metade do peito. A santidade envolve-o, brilha em seu olhar. Caminha lentamente até o fim da rua principal… Nós largamos nossas ferramentas, nós saímos de nossas casas, nós o seguimos. De pé sobre um montículo de terra, Shabtai Zvi nos fala.

– Castigo divino cai sobre vós!

Referia-se a Chico Diabo e ao granizo. Tínhamos atraído a ira de Deus. E o que poderíamos fazer para expiar nossos pecados?

– Devemos abandonar tudo: as casas; as lavouras; a escola; a sinagoga; construiremos, nós mesmos, um navio – o casco com a madeira de nossas casas, as velas com os nossos xales de oração. Atravessaremos o mar. Chegaremos à Palestina, a Eretz Israel; e lá, na santa e antiga cidade de Sfat, construiremos um grande templo.

– E aguardaremos lá a chegada do Messias? – perguntou alguém com voz trêmula.

– O Messias já chegou! – gritou Natan de Gaza. – O Messias está aqui! O Messias é o nosso Shabtai Zvi!

Shabtai Zvi abriu o manto em que se enrolava. Recuamos, horrorizados. Víamos um corpo nu, coberto de cicatrizes; no ventre, um cinturão eriçado de pregos, cujas pontas enterravam-se na carne. Desde aquele dia não trabalhamos mais. O granizo que destruísse as plantações. Chico Diabo que roubasse os animais, porque nós íamos embora. Derrubávamos as casas, jubilosos. As mulheres costuravam panos para fazeras velas do barco. As crianças colhiam frutas silvestres para fazer conservas. Natan de Gaza recolhia dinheiro para, segundo dizia, subornar os potentados turcos que dominavam a Terra Santa.

– O que está acontecendo com os judeus? – perguntavam-se os colonos da região. Tão intrigados estavam que pediram ao padre Batistella para investigar. O padre veio ver-nos; sabia de nossas dificuldades, estava disposto a nos ajudar.

– Não precisamos, padre – respondemos com toda a sinceridade. –

Nosso Messias chegou; ele nos libertará, nos fará felizes.

– O Messias? – o padre estava assombrado. – O Messias já passou pela terra. Foi Nosso Senhor Jesus Cristo, que transformou a água em vinho e morreu na cruz por nossos pecados.

– Cala-te, padre! – gritou Santa. – O Messias é Shabtai Zvi!

Santa, filha adotiva do gordo Leib Rubin, perdera os pais num pogrom. Ficara então com a mente abalada. Seguia Shabtai Zvi por toda a parte, convencida de que era a esposa reservada para o Ungido do Senhor. E para surpresa nossa Shabtai Zvi aceitou-a: casaram-se no dia em que terminamos o casco do barco. Quanto à embarcação, ficou muito boa; pretendíamos levá-la ao mar, como Bento Gonçalves transportara seu navio, sobre uma grande carreta puxada por bois.

Estes já eram poucos. Chico Diabo aparecia agora todas as semanas, roubando duas ou três cabeças de cada vez. Alguns falavam em enfrentar os bandidos. Shabtai Zvi não aprovava a idéia. “Nosso reino está além do mar. E Deus vela por nós. Ele providenciará.” De fato: Chico Diabo desapareceu. Durante duas semanas trabalhamos em paz, ultimando os preparativos para a partida. Então, num sábado pela manhã, um cavaleiro entrou a galope na vila. Era Gumercindo, lugar-tenente de Chico Diabo.

– Chico Diabo está doente! – gritou, sem descer do cavalo. – Está muito mal. O doutor não acerta com o tratamento. Chico Diabo me mandou levar o santo de vocês para curar ele. Nós o rodeávamos em silêncio.

– E se ele não quiser ir – continuou Gumercindo – é para nós queimar a vila toda. Ouviram?

– Eu vou – bradou uma voz forte.

Era Shabtai Zvi. Abrimos caminho para ele. Aproximou-se lentamente,

encarando o bandoleiro.

– Apeia.

Gumercindo desceu do cavalo. Shabtai Zvi montou.

– Vai na frente, correndo.

Foram os três: primeiro Gumercindo, correndo; depois Shabtai Zvi a cavalo; e fechando o cortejo, Natan de Gaza montado num jumento. Santa também quis ir mas Leib Rubin não deixou. Ficamos reunidos na escola todo o dia. Não falávamos; nossa angústia era demasiada. Quando caiu a noite ouvimos o trote de um cavalo. Corremos para a porta. Era Natan de Gaza, esbaforido.

– Quando chegamos lá – contou – encontramos Chico Diabo deitado no chão. Perto dele, um curandeiro fazia mandingas. Shabtai Zvi sentou perto do bandido. Não disse nada, não fez nada, não tocou no homem – só ficou olhando. Chico Diabo levantou a cabeça, olhou para Shabtai Zvi, deu um grito e morreu. O curandeiro, eles mataram ali mesmo. De Shabtai Zvi nada sei. Vim aqui avisar: correi, fugi!

Metemo-nos nas carroças e fugimos para Erexim. Santa teve de ir à força. No dia seguinte, Leib Rubin nos reuniu.

– Não sei o que vocês estão pensando em fazer – disse – mas eu já estou cheio dessas histórias todas: Barão Franck, Palestina, Sfat… Eu vou é para Porto Alegre. Querem ir comigo?

– E Shabtai Zvi? – perguntou Natan de Gaza com voz trêmula (era remorso o que ele sentia?).

– Ele que vá para o diabo, aquele louco! – berrou Leib Rubin. – Só

trouxe desgraças!

– Não fale assim, pai! – gritou Santa. – Ele é o Messias.

– Que Messias, nada! Acaba com essa história, isso ainda vai provocar os anti-semitas. Não ouviste o que o padre disse? O Messias já veio, está bom? Transformou a água em vinho e outras coisas. E nós vamos embora. O teu marido, se ainda está vivo, e se ficou bom da cabeça, que venha atrás. Eu tenho obrigação de cuidar de ti, e vou cuidar de ti, com marido ou sem marido!

Viajamos para Porto Alegre. Judeus bondosos nos hospedaram. E para nossa surpresa, Shabtai Zvi apareceu uns dias depois. Trouxeram-no os “AbasLargas”, que haviam prendido todo o bando de Chico Diabo.

Um dos soldados nos contou que haviam encontrado Shabtai Zvi sentado numa pedra, olhando para o corpo de Chico Diabo. Espalhados pelo chão – os bandidos, bêbados, roncando. Havia bois carneados por toda a parte. E vinho. “Nunca vi tanto vinho!” Tudo o que antes tinha água agora tinha vinho! Garrafas, cantis, baldes, bacias, barricas. As águas de um charco ali perto estavam vermelhas. Não sei se era sangue das reses ou vinho. Mas acho que era vinho. Ajudado por um parente rico, Leib Rubin se estabeleceu com uma loja de fazendas. Depois passou para o ramo de imóveis e posteniormente abriu uma financeira, reunindo grande fortuna. Shabtai Zvi trabalhava numa de suas firmas, da qual eu também era empregado. Natan de Gaza envolveu-se em contrabando, teve de fugir e nunca mais foi visto.

Desde a morte de Santa, Shabtai Zvi e eu costumamos nos encontrar num bar para tomar vinho. E ali ficamos toda a noite. Ele fala pouco e eu também; ele serve o vinho e bebemos em silêncio. Perto da meia-noite ele fecha os olhos, estende as mãos sobre o copo e murmura palavras em hebraico (ou em aramaico, ou em ladino). O vinho se transforma em água. O dono do bar acha que é apenas um truque. Quanto a mim, tenho minhas dúvidas. 

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Campos do Rio Grande do Sul, Brasil

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Sabbatai Zvi
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Natan de Gaza/Nathan of Gaza

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“The Ballad of the False Messiah”

He’s about to pour the wine into the glass. His hands are now wrinkled and unsteady. And yet, those big, strong hands of his still deeply affect me. I compare them with my own hands with their stubby fingers and I admit that I’ve never understood him and never will.

I first met him on board the Zemlia. We were Jews leaving Russia in that old ship; we feared the pogroms. Enticed by the promises of America, we were now journeying toward our destination, crammed into the third class. We wept and were seasick in that year of 1906.

They were already aboard the ship when we embarked. Shabtai Zvi and Natan de Gaza. We shunned them. We knew that they were Jews, but we from Russia are wary of strangers. We dislike anyone who looks more Oriental than we do. And Shabtai Zvi was from Smima, in Asia Minor—one could tell by his swarthy complexion and dark eyes. The captain told us that he was from a very wealthy family. As a matter of fact, he and Natan de Gaza occupied the only decent stateroom in the ship. What made them leave for America? What were they escaping from? Questions with no answers.

Natan de Gaza, in particular—a short, dark complexioned man—roused our curiosity. Until then we had never seen a Jew from Palestine, from Eretz Israel—a land which to many of us existed only in dreams. Natan, an eloquent public speaker, would tell an attentive audience about the rolling hills of Galilee, about beautiful Lake Kineret, about the historical city of Gaza, where he had been born, and whose gates Samson had wrenched off their hinges. When drunk, however, he would curse his native land: ”Nothing but rocks  and sand, camels, larcenous Arabs . . . ” When we were off the Canary Islands, Shabtai Zvi caught him execrating Eretz Israel. He beat Natan up, until he collapsed on the floor, where he lay bleeding; when Natan dared to protest, Shabtai knocked him out with one final kick.

After this incident he spent days shut up in his stateroom, speaking to no one. As we walked past his door, we could hear moans . . . and sighs . . . and melodious songs.

One day at dawn we were awakened by the shouts of the seamen. We rushed to the deck and saw Shabtai Zvi swimming in the icy sea. A lifeboat was lowered and with great difficulty he was pulled out of the water. Stark naked as he was, he walked past us, without a glance in our direction, his head held high—and he went straight to his stateroom, where he shut himself up. Natan de Gaza said that the bathing in the sea had been an act of penance, but our own conclusion was quite different: “He’s crazy, this Turk.”

We arrived at Ilha das Flores in Rio de Janeiro, and from there we traveled to Erexim, from where we proceeded in covered wagons to our new homes in the settlement called Barão Franck, named for the Austrian philanthropist who had sponsored our coming. We felt very grateful to this man, whom, incidentally, we never met. It was rumored that later a railroad would be built across the lands where we were being settled, and that the baron was interested in the valuation of the shares of stock in the railroad company. I don’t believe this rumor was true. I do think that he was a generous man, that’s all. He gave each family a plot of land, a wooden house, agricultural tools, livestock.

Shabtai Zvi and Natan de Gaza stayed with us. They were given a house, too, although the baron’s representative wasn’t pleased with the idea of having two men living together under the same roof.

“We need families,” he stated incisively—”not fairies.” Shabtai Zvi stared at him. It was such a powerful gaze that it froze us.

The baron’s agent shuddered, bid us farewell, and left hastily. We threw ourselves wholeheartedly into our work. How hard country life was! Felling trees. Plowing the fields. Sowing . . . Our hands were covered with bleeding blisters. We hadn’t seen Shabtai Zvi for months. He had shut himself up in his house. Apparently he had run out of money because Natan de Gaza began to wander about the village, asking for clothes and food. He would tell us that Shabtai Zvi would reappear in the near future to bring good tidings to the entire population. “But what has he been doing?” we would ask. What has he been doing? Studying. He has been studying the Cabalah, the masterpiece work of Jewish mysticism: The Book of Creation, the Book of Brightness, theBook of Splendor. The occult sciences. Metempsychosis. Demonology. The power of names (names can exorcise demons; a person well versed in the power of names can walk on the water without getting his feet wet; and there is also the power of the secret, ineffable, unpronounceable name of God). The mysterious science of letters and numbers (letters are numbers and numbers are letters; numbers have magical powers; as for letters, they are the steps leading to wisdom).

It is around that time that the outlaw Chico Devil puts in an appearance at Barão Franck for the first time. A fugitive from the law, he comes from the frontier, he and his band of desperados. While fleeing from the “Stetsons,” he finds a hideout near our settlement. And he plunders and he destroys and he sneers. Laughing, he kills our bulls, wrenches out their testicles, then eats them slightly roasted. And he threatens to kill every one of us if we denounce him to the authorities. As if this misfortune weren’t enough, we are struck by hail, which destroys our fields of wheat. We are plunged into the deepest despair when Shabtai Zvi reappears.

He is transformed. Fasting has ravaged his once robust body, his shoulders stoop. His beard, oddly turned grey, now reaches down to his chest. Sainthood enfolds him like a mantle and it glows in his eyes. Slowly he walks toward the end of the main street . . . We drop our tools, we leave our houses, we follow him. Then, standing on a mound of earth, Shabtai Zvi addresses us.

“Divine punishment will befall you!”

He was referring to Chico Devil and to the hail. We had attracted God’s wrath. And what could we do to expiate our sins?

“We will abandon everything: the houses; the cultivated fields; the school; the synagogue; with our own hands we will build a boat—the timber of our houses will bemade up into the hull, and our talliths will be made up into sails. Then we will cross the ocean. We will arrive in Palestine, in Eretz Israel; and there, in the ancient, holycity of Sfat, we will build a large temple.”

“And will we await the coming of the Messiah there?” somebody asked in a trembling voice.

“The Messiah has already come!” shouted Natan de Gaza. “The Messiah is right here! The Messiah is our own Shabtai Zvi!”

Shabtai Zvi opened the mantle which enveloped him. We stepped back, horrified. What we saw was a naked body covered with scars; circling his belly was a wide belt studded with spikes that penetrated his flesh.

That day we stopped working. Let the hail destroy the cultivated fields. Let Chico Devil steal our livestock; we no longer cared, because we were leaving soon. Jubilant, we tore down our houses. The women sewed pieces of cloth together to make sails for the boat. The children gathered wild berries to make jam. Natan de Gaza collected money, which was needed, he said, to buy off the Turkish potentates that ruled over the Holy Land.

“What’s been going on in the Jewish settlement?” wondered the settlers in the neighboring areas. They were so intrigued that they sent Father Batistella over to find out. The priest came to see us; he was aware of our plight and willing to help us.

“We don’t need anything, Father,” we replied with great earnestness. “Our Messiah has come; he’s going to set us free and make us happy.” “The Messiah?” The priest was astonished. “But the Messiah has already been here on earth. He was our Lord Jesus Christ, who changed water into wine and who died on the cross because of our sins.”

“Shut up, Father!” shouted Sarita. “The Messiah is Shabtai Zvi!”

Sarita, the adopted daughter of fat Leib Rubin, had lost her parents in a pogrom. Ever since, she had been mentally unbalanced. She would follow Shabtai Zvi everywhere, convinced that she was destined to become the wife of the Anointed of the Lord. And to our surprise, Shabtai Zvi accepted her: they were married on the day when we finished the hull of the boat. As for the vessel itself, it was quite good; we planned to transport it to the sea on a big oxcart, the way Bento Gonçalves had transported his own boat.

There weren’t many oxen left. Chico Devil was now showing up once a week, each time stealing a couple of them. Some of us began talking about confronting the bandits. Shabtai Zvi disapproved of this idea. “Our kingdom lies overseas. And God is protecting us. He will provide for us.” Indeed: Chico Devil disappeared. For two weeks we worked in peace, putting the finishing touches to the preparations for our departure. Then on a Saturday morning, a horseman galloped into the village. It was Gumercindo, Chico Devil’s lieutenant.

“Chico Devil is ill!” he shouted without dismounting from his horse. “He’s seriously ill. The doctor doesn’t seem to be able to come up with the right treatment. Chico Devil has asked me to bring your saint over so that he can cure him.”We surrounded him in silence.

“And if he refuses to come with me,” Gumercindo went on, “then I have orders to set the whole village on fire. Did you hear?”

“I’ll go,” thundered a strong voice. It was Shabtai Zvi. We made way for him. Slowly he drew closer, his eyes fastened on the outlaw.

“Get down from the horse.”

Gumercindo dismounted. Shabtai Zvi mounted the horse.

“You go in front of me, running.”

The three of them set off: Gumercindo, running ahead; then Shabtai Zvi, on horseback; and bringing up the rear, Natan de Gaza, riding on a donkey. Sarita wanted to go with them, but Leib Rubin didn’t let her.

We were assembled in the school building all day long. We were far too anxious to speak. When night fell, we heard a horse’s trotting. We ran to the door. It was Natan de Gaza, gasping for breath.

“When we got there,” he said, “we found Chico Devil lying on the floor. Beside him, a witch doctor was performing his sorcery. Shabtai Zvi sat down by the bandit. He didn’t say a word, he didn’t do a thing, he never touched the man—he just sat there watching. Then Chico Devil raised his head, looked at Shabtai Zvi, let out a yell, and died. The witch doctor, he was killed right then and there. I don’t know what happened to Shabtai Zvi. I came over to warn you: Cut and run!”

We got into our wagons and fled from Erexim. Sarita had to be taken forcibly. On the following day, Leib Rubin called us to a meeting. “I don’t know about the rest of you,” he said, “but I’ve had enough of the whole shebang: Barão Franck, Palestine, Sfat . . . I’ve made up my mind to go to Porto Alegre. Do you want to come with me?””And what about Shabtai Zvi?” asked Natan de Gaza in a shaky voice (was he feeling remorse?).

“The hell with him. He’s nuts!” yelled Leib Rubin. “He has caused us nothing but misfortunes.”

“Don’t speak like that, Father!” shouted Sarita. “He is the Messiah!”

“The Messiah, my foot! Enough of this story—it’s the kind of thing that might well provoke the Jewhaters. Didn’t you hear what the priest said? The Messiah has already come, didn’t you hear? He changed water into wine, among other things. And we’re leaving. That husband of yours, if he’s still alive—and if he has gotten his head together—can join us later. It’s my duty to look after you—which I’m going to do, husband or no husband!”

We traveled to Porto Alegre. Kindly Jews took us in. And to our surprise, Shabtai Zvi showed up a few days later. The “Stetsons,” who had arrested Chico Devil’s gang, brought him to us.

One of the soldiers told us that they had found Shabtai Zvi sitting on a stone, his eyes fixed on the body of Chico Devil. And throughout the floor—the bandits, dead drunk, lay snoring. There were quartered oxen scattered everywhere. And wine. “I’ve never seen so much wine! Every single container previously filled with water was now filled with wine! Bottles, flasks, buckets, basins, barrels. The waters of a nearby marsh were red. I don’t know if it was the blood of the oxen or if it was wine. But I think it was wine.”

With the help of a wealthy relative, Leib Rubin set up shop: first he ran a store that sold fabrics. Then he moved on to furniture, and eventually he established a brokerage firm, and ended up amassing a great fortune. Shabtai Zvi worked in one of his companies, where I was also an employee. Natan de Gaza, after getting mixed up in some smuggling activities, had to flee the country and was never heard of again.

After Sarita’s death, Shabtai Zvi and I got into the habit of getting together in a bar to drink wine. That’s where we spend our evenings. He doesn’t say much, and neither do I; he pours the wine and we drink in silence. Just before midnight he closes his eyes, lays his hands over the glass and murmurs some words in Hebrew (or in Aramaic, or in Ladino). The wine is changed into water. The bar owner thinks it is just a trick. As for myself, I’m not so sure.

Translation by Eloah Giacomelli

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20151214-biomapampa
Fields in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

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Moacyr Scliar’s website

Livros de Moacyr Scliar/Books by Moacyr Scliar

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