“Our family,” Daniel explained, his eyes on Gheorghe’s face, “has for many generations been in the business of medicine and pharmaceuticals. My father was a doctor and his father before him. So were my uncles and three of my siblings. If you made a study of it, you would discover that we have healers, midwives, herbalists and so forth throughout our lineage, going back in history to quite ancient times. It’s not surprising, therefore, that our forebears created a book of their learnings, a kind of bible, if you will, containing observations, cures, codes, predictions and prophecies regarding the human condition that has been passed down from generation to generation. This great artifact, which we call ‘the Bukh,’ has magical properties, and for that reason, as well as the vast amount of knowledge held between its covers, is highly sought after and valuable.” He reached down to open the valise at his feet. Gheorghe watched in fascination as Daniel lifted a thick, and clearly very old leather bound book from the interior of the valise and placed it on his bony knees, where it sat, giving off an odd glow, almost as if it were alive.
“What is that?” Gheorghe whispered.
Daniel chuckled. “As I said, the Bukh has magical properties. My job now is to teach you how to use them.” He stood and placed the Bukh on the desk, motioning for Gheorghe to open it up, have a closer look. Poor, shocked Gheorghe was hesitant. “Go ahead,” Daniel encouraged. “It won’t bite you. To the contrary, if you learn to handle the wealth of information the Bukh offers, your life will be improved in countless ways.”
And so began a tutelage that lasted two meagre weeks until Daniel had to fly back to Jerusalem. In that little bit of time, he taught Gheorghe the structure of the Bukh and how to follow its advice in the use of herbs, tinctures, the laying on of hands. He introduced Gheorghe to an antiquities scholar who would get him started in the study of Hebrew. He impressed upon him that learning the secrets of the Bukh was a lifelong process, and that great care had to be taken handling the Bukh, lest it turn on you. “You cannot ever make this public,” he explained to Gheorghe. “It is for you to use in your medical practice, and then to pass down the line to one of your heirs — any of your children who shows signs of talent in the field of medicine, biology, biochemistry, botany or even the occult arts.” He warned that the Bukh could bring good luck or bad and always had to be approached with respect. And he told Gheorghe the story of how he himself had come to acquire the Bukh.
It was the turn of the century, a time of difficulty and pogroms for the Jews of central Europe. In the city of Lemberg, where Daniel grew up, the Gottliebs convened to discuss the future of the Bukh, which Meir, the eldest sibling, had inherited at the time of their father’s death. Meir wanted descent to go to his son, Avner, but the other three siblings argued that they and their offspring were equally talented and it would be more just to draw lots. A bitter clash ensued, and Meir, in his wisdom, decided to divide the Bukh into four equal parts which he distributed to his sister and brothers. “As far as I know,” Daniel told Gheorghe, “this and Meir’s volume that went to Canada, are the only remaining volumes in existence. My sister Raizel’s was destroyed in a fire caused by arson when her house burned down. As for the fourth …” He shrugged eloquently. “Last heard of, it was in Berlin with my youngest brother, Benyamin, who was killed in the war with his wife and children. No one’s seen his copy since.”