How the Tenth Tribe Lost Its Words (By Howard Schwartz)

I’ve carried these hauntingly beautiful words around with me in a box of treasures since the mid-1990s. I would have spoken them aloud if I could only stem the weeping they brought forth. They are here reprinted from Adam’s Soul: The Collected Tales of Howard Schwartz (Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aronson, 1992). Copyright 1992 Howard Schwartz. Learn more about Schwartz and his Jewish parables, stories and books at howardschwartz.com. I also want to give a shout-out to the remarkable work of Operation X, whose life’s mission is to learn the most endangered (European) Frisian tongues before they die out.

For years after the separation from their brothers, the tenth lost tribe of Israel paused at dusk, raised up their tents, and assembled for the holy services. But in the thirty-ninth year they could not agree on where to seek the promised land, and one day when they assembled for prayer no words sang out, for somehow they had lost the word open and from that day on the scroll remained tightly closed.

Divining the fate this sign foretold, the prophets so frightened the people that no man dared lay with his wife. Instead all stretched out alone and discovered the silence of their empty hands, and by morning they had lost the word hold.

Soon afterwards their wanderings were cut short. Day after day they stayed in their tents and refused to continue their journey. At last they agreed that this place was their home, and that day they lost the word search.

Before long not only the people, but the animals, the birds, and even the winds had become silent. And within a year no one could speak the ancient tongue; its words were scattered through the desert like clouds of dust.

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