You Shall Know Our Names (The Judah Halevi Journals) (Volume 1)

You Shall Know Our Names (The Judah Halevi Journals) (Volume 1)

by Ezekiel Nieto Benzion


Publisher CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Published in Literature & Fiction/Contemporary, Literature & Fiction

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Book Description


When Ezekiel Benzion's grandfather handed him the dusty journals written by Doctor Judah Halevi Nieto, he begged, "Before I die, tell me why our family protected these for two hundred years. Who were these men? And why were they revered?" The search for answers led to this first tale in which two men separated by two centuries find their lives connected by their families, their names and their quest for justice and peace.

Sample Chapter

From Part II: Death and Rebirth Vienna, 1802

The flustered hotel clerk shuffled the pile of papers for the third time. "Herr Hassan," he said, his voice tinged with embarrassment. "I still cannot find your reservation."

"It is Herr DOKTOR Hassan," Judah corrected him for the third time within the past few minutes. "The reservation was made by Herr Doktor Gerhard Hermann. He reserved several rooms in his name for colleagues coming long distances."

"Yes, as you mentioned. But we are totally booked. We are hosting an important medical conference." The clerk waved at the large placard on the easel in the lobby welcoming doctors to the Imperial Medical Society's conference.

"Yes, as you mentioned before," Judah reminded him. "And, as I mentioned before, I am presenting at that very conference. If you review the agenda, you will find me listed. And so, there should be a room under Herr Doktor Hermann's reservation for me."

The clerk sighed theatrically as he gave up his ineffectual search through the reservation slips. "Let me check with my superior. Perhaps...." He sidled down the length of the counter to confer with an imperious-looking man dressed in the formal uniform of the Grand Hotel of Vienna’s management. As they discussed the situation, the superior cast a sharp glance in Judah's direction.

Judah looked into the ornate mirror facing him on the wall behind the counter. "No wonder they are concerned about accommodating me in this esteemed establishment," he muttered. His image reflected a man with sun-darkened olive skin, curly dark-brown hair and a full beard. The most striking characteristic in his face were the brilliant blue eyes, unusual for anyone but extremely rare in darker-skinned men of Mediterranean coastal regions.

He brushed the travel dust from the shoulders of his one suit—clearly well-worn and out of vogue and a bit big for his now even more slender build. "I should have remembered how unforgiving the Viennese are about those who do not look Austrian." He grimaced. He had forgotten how it felt to be a Jew in this part of Europe, having been away for years studying medicine and surgery in Alexandria and then working in military medical tents trying to save the lives of the soldiers of the Imperial Army in the seemingly endless wars raging between the various empires.

The clerk had returned with a piece of stationery in his hand. The paper trembled with the man's nervousness. "I regret, Herr Hassan. All our rooms are booked, but my superior recommends any of these hotels as places in which you will feel most comfortable. And they are just a walk of a few minutes from here so you will be able to easily attend the conference sessions." He smiled grimly, regretting that his superior had refused to handle these messy details personally.

Judah stared at the man with his brilliant blue eyes, knowing the intimidating power of his steady gaze. "Feel most comfortable? Let me guess, mein Herr. Those hotels are along the Judenstrasse[i]? And just why do you think I would be ‘most comfortable’ there instead of here? Explain that to me, sir.”

"Herr Hassan, no offense was meant…we just thought...." The clerk began when another patron approached the counter and interrupted, begging Judah’s pardon.

"Excuse me, mein Herr. I have a reservation for a room and I am late for a meeting. The name is Herr Doktor Müller—Wilhelm Müller."

The clerk had the good grace to flush under his staid exterior. "Herr Doktor Müller, one moment please. I will check for you in a minute." He turned back to Judah, "So mein Herr, do you have any other requests?"

Judah stood for a moment as if deep in thought then suddenly turned to the gentleman to his right. "Herr Doktor Müller? The Müller who wrote the interesting paper on the use of dilute lye solution to stop wound infection? It was quite enlightening and very helpful to those of us treating the Emperor’s soldiers with very limited supplies. I am Herr Doktor Hassan."

"Oh yes, I am looking forward to your presentation on herbal-based anesthetics. Are you staying here? Perhaps we can have dinner together?"

"Alas, Herr Doktor. It seems they are fully booked. They have just informed me that there are no rooms available. Perhaps you might wish to try the other hotels they have suggested. We can walk over together." He raised the sheet of paper handed to him by the clerk then paused waiting for the response from the clerk which he suspected would be coming very quickly.

"But...but...we do have the reservation of Herr Doktor Müller. I have it right here." The clerk was fumbling through the piles of papers yet again.

Now Judah let his voice rise a bit, catching the attention of other men milling around the large elegant lobby. "I must have misunderstood, mein Herr. Did you not just tell me that there were no rooms available? That you were fully booked? Or perhaps there are no rooms available for doctors with darker skin and foreign-sounding names even if they are presenting at the conference? Is that what you meant? That those of us with strange foreign names are just not welcomed here?" He waited while the hotel clerk stammered.

Doctor Müller was looking on in distress. "I am thinking your suggestion that we seek another hotel is an excellent one, Herr Doktor Hassan. That way we can discuss our researches together in comfort."

Finally the clerk's superior slid over to attend to the confusion. "That would not be necessary, Herr Doktor Müller. My colleague here meant merely that given the rooms already reserved, there are no open rooms remaining that can accommodate Herr Hassan. Your reservation is right here, Herr Doktor Müller. Can we help you with your luggage?"

Herr Doktor Muller was about to refuse but at that moment a gentleman in a formal business suit approached them.

"Herr Doktor Hassan? Herr Doktor Judah Halevi Hassan? Yes? Greetings from His Excellency Baron von Tedesco. I am Herr Stein, the Baron's agent d'affaires. The Baron extends his welcome to you and asks if he could have the pleasure of hosting you in his home while you are in the city. He is bringing together some men to discuss his new projects and he wanted the honor of your presence specifically because of your well-known expertise. His coach is waiting outside for your convenience." The man bowed formally and waited for Judah's response.

Judah looked at the hotel officer whose mouth was agape at the distinction being offered. Perhaps a room might become available at the Grand Hotel after all for this slender man with the strange name and foreign looks but obviously important enough to be a guest of Baron von Tedesco. Baron von Tedesco was famous as a special Ambassador who served the Emperor and traveled throughout the world to further the Emperor’s interests. Baron von Tedesco was the leader of a family whose wealth was so vast that it was whispered in some quarters that the Emperor himself depended on the Baron’s largesse to pay his bills.

The blue-eyed doctor hesitated, not sure if he wished to give up his fight to force the hotel management to acknowledge their treatment of him. However, as remote as he had been for years, even he had heard of the Baron’s prestige. Herr Stein decided just at that moment to sweeten the offer.

"The Baron is planning a new hospital to serve the poor communities here and he would welcome your input on how to ensure that the most current medical practices, including those from the Orient, are incorporated." The man paused again.

As he suspected, the offer was now too good to resist. Herr Doktor Hassan nodded, casting one last look of anger at the clerk who looked down at his hands now resting on top of all those reservation slips.

Doctor Müller extended his hand to Judah. "Herr Doktor Hassan, I apologize for the rude behavior of my fellow Austrians. Let us be sure to dine together while you are here so we can exchange news about our researches." They shook hands, setting a time and place for their meeting.

...The Baron's residence had been deliberately designed by his father, the previous Baron, to impress the other aristocrats of the Empire and it achieved that goal. While it was like those palaces on either side, built in fine white marble and set back from the "Ringstrasse" behind wrought iron fences cast in intricate black and gold curved designs, it was just a bit larger and more perfect in every way.

When the Baron’s coach approached, liveried footmen, who had been ordered to await its arrival, opened the gates at exactly the right moment so that the coach could continue without a halt up the graveled front drive. Judah and Herr Stein were greeted at the massive front door by a man who introduced himself as Mr. Graves, the Baron's major domo—a perfect English butler attracted to Vienna from a ducal London residence by the higher salary the Baron was willing to pay. It was immediately clear to Judah that the Mr. Graves felt that his responsibility for the efficient operation of the Baron's home was elevated to the level of a sacred trust.

The butler began grandly, "Welcome, herr Doktor Hassan. Welcome to the home of the Baron von Tedesco. I will order that your luggage be taken to your room and unpacked for you. The Baron awaits you in his study. After that, you will have some time to bathe and relax before dinner this evening with the family.” Then the man began to falter, “Your luggage? Where is your luggage, herr Doktor?"

The questions were asked in perfect and elegant German—nothing less would have been acceptable in the Baron’s household, Judah suspected. And now the butler was trying to remain calm as he noted there were no large travel cases being unloaded from the carriage.

Judah gestured to the small hand-luggage and wooden box at his feet and the black leather medical bag he was carrying in his left hand. "This is my luggage, Mr. Graves. A poor medical student such as I have been has little need for more than a few changes of clothing and his medical books and instruments. My work as a surgeon on battlefields requires me to travel lightly as well so, as you see, I am well-schooled in living with little."

Graves eyed the meager items with concern. "Hmmm—we will need to see what we will find that is suitable for dining with the Dowager Baroness. The Baron expects that all is done correctly…I wonder… perhaps…since his man Mendes is skilled with quick tailoring.” He was leading the way into the house, considering the options in a low conversation with himself in English. "I will have Mendes unpack the bags and see what is possible...then we will find the right garments...all will be fine...and acceptable to the Baron and the Dowager Baroness...yes, it must be acceptable to the Baroness. We will manage—yes, we must manage."

Graves led the doctor and Herr Stein through the round foyer with its elegant marble floor and stately furniture and magnificent paintings to a set of beautifully carved double doors towards the rear of the house. After tapping on the door, he waited for the command "Enter!" before pushing the doors open with a flourish. "Herr Doktor Hassan, My Lord Baron, and Herr Stein."

"Welcome, welcome!" A well-modulated baritone voice was heard before the man himself appeared, walking around the massive desk at the far end of the large darkly-paneled room. The Baron von Tedesco was a man in his late twenties, perhaps about the same age as the doctor himself, but much taller and physically imposing with broad shoulders and long limbs, set off by his immaculately tailored clothes. His thick black hair and golden-hued skin bespoke his Sephardic forebears while his eyes, an unusual light brown color with golden glints, hinted at the perception and subtlety of thought that made him a formidable diplomat representing the Emperor throughout Europe.

Judah began to chuckle. Herr Stein was shocked. Mr. Graves was stunned. The Baron paused with a startled look on his face. "Herr Doktor Hassan, something about me amuses you?"

The blue-eyed man smiled, "I was thinking how I was turned away from the Grand Hotel this afternoon because I did not fit the mold of the proper Viennese citizen. Yet, here I am, in this very proper Viennese palace being welcomed by a very proper Austrian nobleman, known for his power in the Imperial Court, who shares my very improper Sephardic coloring. I apologize but the irony of it all amused me."

The Baron smiled now as well. "I cannot explain the Austrians who insist on their persistent petty prejudices but I will admit that wealth and power and a title open doors here as it does in many cities of the world. Those who must stand at their doors and welcome me in are not always happy to do so but they are most often respectful. They can rarely afford to be otherwise. I am honest enough to admit that their respect is given grudgingly. They have too much at stake and frankly many are much in my debt. Others fear my anger or that of the Emperor whom I have the pleasure to serve. But let us move onto more pleasant topics. First—may I offer you a drink?"

The doctor selected a whiskey. Stein poured his drink then one for the Baron then bowed himself out of the room, closing the massive doors quietly behind him.

As the drinks were being poured, Judah had taken the opportunity to look around the room. The dark wood shelves were filled with fine books in many languages as well as several curious items hinting at the exotic travels of the diplomat. Above the fireplace was a large portrait of a distinguished man in formal court dress wearing golden chains of high office and a sash displaying heraldic medals draped across his chest.

In size and features, it was clear the subject of the painting was related to the Baron. His coloring was however fairer; he had brown hair, light brown eyes and skin that seemed cream-colored rather than the gold of the host's complexion.

Noting the doctor's gaze, the Baron said simply, "My father, Baron Moses von Tedesco. As you note from the chain of office, also in service to the Emperor, focusing on keeping the outer regions of the Empire calm. He was assassinated five years ago in Prague."

Judah was struck by the Baron's matter-of-fact tone. His curiosity was aroused. "That must have been a terrible shock for your family. Was the assassin discovered and the reason for the tragedy determined?"

The Baron gazed at the portrait before replying. When he did, he kept looking at the painting. "Well, yes and no. The actual assassin was killed at the scene by the Baron's bodyguard. His identity however remained a mystery for a long time and the reason for the assassination was unknown even longer. Once his name and his background were discovered, it became evident that the man did not act alone so his accomplices are being sought—even five years later, we continue to probe. When all is clear, we will know why it was done and everyone who was involved. At that time, full and complete justice will be exacted for my father's murder."

He sipped from his own glass then turned back to the doctor. "Let us sit and get to know each other. May I call you Judah? Yes? Then when we are alone, you may call me Isaac."

The two men sat in leather chairs near the fireplace. Judah asked, "Baron...Isaac, why was your man waiting for me at the Hotel? I am of course aware of the Tedesco family and the fame of its men as merchants, bankers and diplomats but how did you become aware of me and my presence in Vienna?"

The Baron smiled, "I would not be a very effective diplomat or a good steward of my family’s commercial interests if I did not have a network of people whose purpose is to supply me with information. They know I am always interested in talented individuals who can be of service to me in a variety of ways.

[i] Literally, in German, the “Street of the Jews” leading to the Judenplatz—the center of the Jewish Quarter.


Excerpted from "You Shall Know Our Names (The Judah Halevi Journals) (Volume 1)" by Ezekiel Nieto Benzion. Copyright © 2013 by Ezekiel Nieto Benzion. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

Ezekiel Nieto Benzion

Ezekiel Nieto Benzion

Ezekiel Nieto Benzion's life took a dramatic turn when his grandfather gave him as his inheritance the journals of his forebear, Judah Halevi, written in Hebrew and hidden by the Benzion family in Bohemia for 200 years. Since then, he has worked on bringing the tales from the journals to life and inspiring others to discover and tell the stories of heroes in their families. He spends time each year traveling to the sites mentioned in the journals and poring through dusty archives to find the truth behind some of the clues left by Judah Halevi. The rest of the time, he lives contentedly in New York City with his very patient wife, his very talented and wonderful children and a very neurotic cat. And somewhere along the way, he actually acquired a taste for slivovitz--which would have made his Zayde proud!

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