A Hometown Wedding

By Philip Greenblatt


Philip Greenblatt

Philip Greenblatt was president of the Keidaner Association of New York in the 1940s. Before and during his tenure, he contributed numerous occasional memoirs to the association’s monthly bulletin. This one, published in “The Keidaner” November 17, 1940, was evidently taken from a talk at the group’s 40th anniversary banquet. 


Gentlemen: I beg your humble forgiveness for barging in, like a Cossack in the sukkah, as they say at home, but I’d like to use this occasion of our 40th anniversary banquet to share some memories of a hometown wedding.

Let me state my case: I could, for example, have prepared a review of the entire span of time from our founding to now, including when and why our association was established and the list of our departed presidents and other leaders. It would have been a long reading with lots of criticism, praises, eulogies and maybe even some cursing at those who didn’t exactly cover themselves with honor.

Klezmer musicians in an East European Jewish town.
Klezmer musicians in an East European Jewish town.

But I ask you: Who wants to disturb those souls who’ve already gone to their reward, and are sitting alongside God’s throne of merit? And who wants also to make real live enemies at such a celebration? Furthermore, I’ll tell you a secret: I’m simply trying to keep peace within our families. If I talked about our 40th anniversary it would just remind us how old all our wives are.

Anyway a wedding is just like a banquet. You’ve got the well-dressed guests, the special soup, the comedians (also known as speakers), stuffed kishke, musicians and so forth.

I think it’s the right sort of occasion to reminisce with you about a hometown wedding. A celebration is a celebration, and I believe, that if I were now preparing a wedding, and if Keidan were the Keidan of long ago, I would plant my feet and not move an inch until it was agreed that we would travel all the way home and have a real Keidan wedding, with every last detail, including a “dobrizhen,” a “rumple,” even a “droshe geshonk“.

Not a pinched affair, like they have here in America, where a boy and girl are transformed into man and wife in four hours, and the next day they have to run off and worry about making a living. That’s not for me. In our town it isn’t done like that, no sir.

With us, the transformation requires three days at least, with all the ceremonies and parades. And as for making a living, we let the father-in-law and the Lord of the Universe worry about that.

So let’s recall, just for fun, a hometown wedding.

Friday, very early, Dovid the klezmer and his orchestra, with Benedict and his big bass fiddle, are already going about to the houses of the nearby relations playing a “dobrizhen“.1

In the bride’s house things are getting busy. People come in and go out, bringing pastries and cakes from the friends and neighbors. People come to say “mazeltov,” they have a little drink, they eat a piece of cake, a couple of cookies – the whole town is like one big family, delighted and joyous at the marriage.

All day the bride’s house is jammed with people. The bride, heavily veiled, pale from her fast, sits upstairs.  Alter the badkhn,2 in a voice like an ostrich, serenades the bride with such a tearful song that it simply tears the heart. Men cough, women sob, the relatives weep, the bride faints; there’s so much grieving it sounds like they’re preparing a human sacrifice.

After the serenade, the parade begins of the wedding escorts, the assistant escorts, the relatives on both sides of the family with burning candles in their hands. With slow, measured steps, like in a funeral march, they lead the bride and groom through the streets of town to the khupe.3 Neighbors, acquaintances, boyfriends, girlfriends all march along to the synagogue courtyard.

Awaiting them there is the canopy, on four poles held by street kids, along with the rabbi, the cantor and choir, and the other synagogue officers, all dressed in their Sabbath clothes, and ready to receive the bride and groom.

“Welcome!” booms David the Cantor’s bass voice. The rabbi reads the marriage contract very seriously, without slurring his words. The cantor sings the blessings. A sudden crack is heard, the sound of a broken glass, and “mazeltov!” rings out from all sides.

The street kids let go of the poles before the bride and groom have time to escape the canopy, and the parade from the khupe to the bride’s house begins, another spectacle. The musicians play a freylekh,4 old women dance in the street before the newlyweds, and the crowd marches, more quickly now, to the bride’s house, where everyone expects to get a good meal.

“And it was evening, and it was morning, the first day.”

The next day, Saturday, is a little quieter than the day before. Except for bringing the young wife to shul, having the new husband read a Torah portion, paying respects to the town’s elders, inviting people in to make toasts and nosh on cakes and herring chopped with eggs, to congratulate and wish long life to the newlyweds, the day passes quietly.

People eat a good tcholent5 and take a Sabbath nap. But after havdole,6 the party really starts. Who can forget a hometown Saturday-night party, everyone invited (“All who are hungry, come in and eat”)? If you have 10 or 15 kopeks in your pocket, you can come in and have a dance. And the dances are all cheap: 30 kopecks for a quadrille, 25 kopeks for a circle-dance, 20 kopecks for a waltz, and a wedding-dance is extra. The young beaus scrounge up a couple of coins, a “Philadelphia treat” as they say here. They dance till they sweat, they go cool off a little in the lobby and then they dance some more. Street kids and older women stand outside, their noses pressed to the window panes, enjoying the sight of the dancing couples.

“And it was evening, and it was morning, the second day.”

Sunday morning – A “rumple.” So what’s a rumple? My granny, may she rest in peace, explained it to me once in these words: “That’s how you send the in-laws home: you make a rumple.” That’s clear, like pea soup, right? Never mind. They make a rumple. The musicians play, Benedict scratches on his bass, something half-sour, half-joyous – it’s a rumple and that’s all.

That night comes the “droshe geshonk” – the presentation of the wedding gifts. Alter the badkhn makes like an auctioneer, crying: “Groom’s side, bride’s side, wedding gifts!” And from all sides come the wedding presents: trays, wash-basins, mortar and pestles, lamps, a candelabra, prayer books, bibles and so on. With each gift is announced who gave what, and the long table piles up with things like an American bargain basement. And so ends the hometown wedding.

“And it was evening, and it was morning, the third day.”


Translated by A. Cassel.

Footnotes

  1.  Literally, “good morning” music, played in honor of a bride on her wedding day.
  2. A wedding jester, who specialized in poking fun at all participants.
  3. A traditional Jewish wedding canopy.
  4. a joyous, upbeat klezmer tune
  5. A traditional Sabbath dish, typically meat, beans and potatoes, cooked slowly overnight
  6. Ritual marking the end of Sabbath

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