Jewish Folk Tale
In 2008 I was asked to write a Chassidic tale (Jewish folk tale) in Hebrew. It gave me the opportunity to set down on paper an incident that had happened to me in Gateshead when I was visiting my friend Benny Tiefenbrunner during College vacation in July 1971. Actually, 10th July 1971 - I checked that up by consulting my copy of "The Dave Bedford Story"…
I had always thought that there was a pearl of Chassidic wisdom that could be prised out of the incident. In the following narration, all the events taking place in Gateshead are recorded accurately, other than the name of Rabbi Freilich's son.
But the reader should be aware that in the surrounding story framework, I lay down the "Chassidic Tale" style with a trowel; a style in which tales are set in 18th century Poland where life could sometimes be cheap. Also, take note that this surrounding story framework is only as historically accurate as most Chassidic tales…
All this happened a long time ago.
In the great city of London there lived a young man named Jacob, who loved to study the Talmud. But Jacob's younger brother Benjamin was not like Jacob. Benjamin preferred to learn about running.
One day Jacob said to Benjamin, "To learn about running instead of studying Talmud, this is bitul zman, this is a waste of time". But Benjamin answered him, "No, Jacob, all knowledge is important, not just Talmud. Whatever we learn might help us one day. Only God knows the future; it is a mystery to man."
The years passed, and one day Benjamin made a journey to the great yeshiva in Gateshead. He lodged at the house of a learned Rabbi, Rabbi Freilich. Rabbi Freilich and his wife had a young family, and their youngest child was Jankele, a nine-year-old boy with long sidelocks. After the Sabbath midday meal, Benjamin offered that he would take Jankele for a walk, so that Rabbi Freilich and his wife could rest.
At this time there lived in London a great runner by the name of David Bedford. It was known that on that day David Bedford was going to try to run a distance of ten thousand metres faster than any man had ever run such a distance before. Benjamin wanted to know whether David Bedford had succeeded in his momentous quest. And so, when Benjamin and Jankele encountered one of the young men of the town, Benjamin stopped and asked him, "Do you know how well David Bedford did when he ran ten thousand metres this afternoon?"
David Bedford, European record
Portsmouth, 10 July 1971
The young man answered, "I think he ran about twenty-eight minutes." He paused for a moment, and then added, "It's not that I don't like Jews, but when I'm with my friends I don't like Jews. And I've got to tell you that you shouldn't be walking in these streets." Benjamin thanked him, and he and Jankele continued on their way.
After another minute or two, six more of the young men of the town came running towards Benjamin and Jankele in a very menacing fashion, screaming that they were going to "beat those Jews up". They had almost reached their intended victims when suddenly from behind them came a great shout:
"Stop! They're my friends!"
The youth whom Benjamin and Jankele had met before had his arms outstretched, as if he were a giant bird protecting his young. And the shouting ones were quietened by his words, and Benjamin and Jankele were spared.
The following day, Benjamin returned to London and told his brother Jacob this story of how his love of running had spared him and his young ward from a beating. Jacob remembered the conversation he had had with his brother those many years before. Now he said, "I see that you were right that every kind of knowledge is important. Life for the faithful is full of danger, and I see that whatever we learn may one day help us."
From that day on, Jacob studied and taught himself all of the knowledge of God and man. He became the Leader of the Rabbis of the Nation. His fame spread across all the lands, and throughout the world people would say, "Rabbi Jacob is a great and a wise man. He is a master of all of the knowledge under the sun!".
And in his quiet moments, away from his followers and his holy books, Jacob's footsteps could be heard as he pounded his circuits around the synagogue grounds.