Uncle Isak’s Story: A young man journeys down an endless road… (from Fanny & Alexander, 1982)

A story told by Isak Jacobi (Erland Josephson, 1923-2012) in Ingmar Bergman’s FANNY & ALEXANDER (1982-1983).


A young man journeys down an endless road
in the company of many others.
The road leads across a rocky plain
where nothing grows.
The sun’s fire burns from morning to evening.
They can’t find shade or coolness anywhere.
A harrowing wind stirs up huge dust clouds.

The youth is driven forward by an incomprehensible anxiety
and tormented by a scorching thirst.
Sometimes he asks himself or one of his traveling companions
about the goal of their pilgrimage.
But the answer is uncertain and tentative.
He himself has forgotten why he ever set out on his journey.
He’s also forgotten his native land
and the journey’s final destination.

Suddenly, one evening he finds himself standing in a forest.
Dusk sets in and all is quiet.
Perhaps the evening wind sighs through the tall trees.
He stands amazed
but also anxious and suspicious.
He’s all alone
and he discovers his hearing is weak,
since his ears are inflamed from the merciless light of the day.
His mouth and throat are parched from the long pilgrimage.
His lips are cracked,
pressed together around curses and harsh words.
So he doesn’t hear the ripple of flowing water
and doesn’t notice its reflection in the dusk.
He stands deaf and blind at the edge of the spring
unaware of its existence.
Like a sleepwalker he wanders unaware between the sparkling pools.
His blind skill is remarkable and soon he’s back onto the road
in the burning, shadowless light.

One night by the camp fire he’s seated near an old man
who’s telling some children about the forests and springs.
The youth recalls what he’s been through,
but faintly and indistinctly
as in a dream.
He turns to the old man, skeptical yet courteous, and asks,
“Where does all this water come from?”.
“It comes from a mountain whose peak is covered by a mighty cloud”.
“What kind of cloud?” the youth asks.
The old man answers,
“Every man carries within him hopes, fears and longings.
Every man shouts out his despair or bears it in his mind.
Some pray to a particular God.
Others address their cries to the void.
This despair, this hope,
this dream of deliverance,
all these cries, all these tears,
are gathered over thousands and thousands of years
and condense into an unmeasurable cloud around a high mountain.
Out of the cloud rain flows down the mountain
forming the streams and rivers that flow through the great forests.
That’s how the springs are formed where you can quench your thirst
wash your badly burnt face
cool your blistered feet.

Everybody has at some time heard of the mountain, the cloud and the springs
but most people anxiously remain on the dusty road in the blazing light.
“Why do they stay there?” asks the youth in great astonishment.
“I certainly don’t know”, replies the old man.
“Perhaps they’ve convinced themselves and each other
that they’ll reach their unknown destination by evening”.
“What unknown destination?” asks the young man.
The old man shrugs his shoulders.
“In all probability the destination does not exist.
It’s deception or imagination.
I myself am on my way to the forests and the springs.
I was there once when I was young
and now I’m trying to find my way back.
It’s not easy, let me tell you”.

The next morning the youth set out with the old man
to seek the mountain, the cloud, the forests and the rippling springs.

About Aharon N. Varady

Aharon's Omphalos is the hobbit hole of Aharon Varady, founding director of the Open Siddur Project. He is a community planner and environmental educator working to improve stewardship of the Public Domain, be it the physical and natural commons of urban park systems or the creative and cultural commons of libraries and museums. His advocacy for open-source strategies in the Jewish community has been written about in the Atlantic Magazine, the Yiddish Forverts, Tablet, and Haaretz. He is particularly interested in pedagogies for advancing ecological wisdom, developing creative and emotional intelligence, and realizing effective theurgical praxes. He welcomes your comments, personal messages, and kind words. If you find his work helpful to your own or you'd simply like to support him, please consider donating via his Patreon account.

2 comments to Uncle Isak’s Story: A young man journeys down an endless road… (from Fanny & Alexander, 1982)

Leave a Reply