He shakes himself awake, gets up, goes to the washbasin, and examines his reflection in the mirror. He sees his yellowish gray pallor, his sagging features, his dull gaze. He doesn't recognize the man staring back at him. All he's done is to change nightmares.
My name is Gamaliel. Yes, Gamaliel, and I'll thank you not to ask me why. It's just another name, right? You're given a name, you carry it around, and if it's too much of a burden, you get rid of it. As for you, dear reader, do I ask you how come you're named William, or Maurice, or Sigmund, or Serge, or Sergei? Yes, Gamaliel isn't an everyday name, and let me tell you, it has its own story, and it's not one you hear every day, either. That's true of everybody, you'll sayand so what? If they want, they can tell me the story of their lives; I'll hear them out. Let me add that I'm also named Péter. Péter was my childhood. For you, childhood means playing with a ball, rolling a hoop, pony rides in the park, birthdays and holidays, vacations at the shore or in the mountains. My childhood was in a nightclub. It has a story, too.
I'll get around to that.
Just bear with me.
For now, let's stick to Gamaliel. Odd kind of name, I know. You don't see it very often. Sounds Sephardic. So how did I get it? You really want to know? I inherited it. Yes, some people inherit houses, or businesses, stamp collections, bank accounts. I inherited my name. My paternal grandfather left it to me. Did I know him? Of course not; he died before I was born, or else I'd have been given another name. But then how did his parents happen to choose so unusual a name, one that seems better suited to a tired old man than to a newborn baby? Did they find it in the traditions of their Sephardic ancestors, those who were expelled from Spain, or perhaps those who stayed on, the Marranos, who pretended to convert but secretly retained their Jewish identity? You can find the first Gamaliel in the Bible: Gamaliel, son of Phadassur, chief of the tribe of Manasseh; and in the Larousse Encyclopedia, where he is described as "a Jew and a great luminary." And of course in the Talmud, where he's frequently quoted. His grandfather was Hillel the Elder. He lived and taught somewhere in Palestine during the first century, well before the destruction of the Second Temple. Yes, I bear the name of a great leader, known for his wisdom and moderation, universally respected in Israel. He was president of the Sanhedrin and of a well-known academy. Nothing was decided without his consent. I would have liked to have known him. Actually, that can be done. All I have to do is look in the records of discussions in which he took part. I've been doing that every chance I've gotten since I came to America, which by now is quite a while ago. I like to study, and I love to read. I never tire of reading. I have a lot to catch up on.
Besides, you could say it's what I do for a living.
I write so I can learn to read and read and read.
From the Book of Secrets
The air-raid alarm is silent, making it a quiet night, but even so, the Archbishop of Székesváros has a nightmare. The Archbishop, Monsignor János Báranyi, dreams he is in the Vatican, waiting for an audience with the Pope. Feverishly, he is searching for the first word he'll speak, the one crucial word that will convince the Pope of his humility and his obedience. He cannot find that word. All he can think of are garbled phrases that might as well be false prayers dictated to him by some evil spirit. What shall I do? Lord in heaven, what shall I do? Without that first word, nothing else he says will matter; the Lord's Creation will be damned. The Archbishop is in a panic. Time is running out: In a few minutes, the door will open and he will be kneeling before the successor to Saint Peter. The Pope will tell him to rise and speak about his mission, but he, a poor sinner from a distant province, will still be seeking that first word. Help me, Lord, help me! Suddenly, his mother is there holding him by the shoulders. She is long dead. The Archbishop knows that even in his dreambut then what is she doing here, in the Pope's waiting room? How has she come into his dream? He is about to ask her, when the door opens, opens so softly that it does not disturb a fly perched on its golden doorknob. Now the Archbishop cries out in horror. . . . It's the Angel of Death, who tells him to come forward.
Excerpted from The Time of the Uprooted by Elie Wiesel Copyright © 2005 by Elie Wiesel. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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