A Wedding in the Shtetl
Yaacov-Hirsh Elishkevich Marries Teibl Dudman
Yaacov-Hirsh began dating Teibl when we lived in the stable. They were about the same age. She was a tall blonde with large eyes and nose in a big face. She was not beautiful, but she was very graceful. Yaacov-Hirsh was of medium height with smart eyes. He was knowledgeable in many subjects, and could as easily converse with the common man as with scholars. He loved socializing and his passion for learning was limitless.
Teibl's family did quite well economically, and even during the war they had a barbershop and a milking cow. In comparison, our family had nothing. The Poles and the Bolsheviks robbed even the small amounts of tobacco we brought with us from Vichodnitza. Yaacov-Hirsh courted Teibl intensively. Her family liked him very much, especially her father. Her father was very learned in the Torah and the Gemara and also knew the Russian language. Obviously he and Yaacov-Hirsh found common ground immediately. In short, Teibl's family treated Yaacov-Hirsh as their own son. He found in them a very warm and loving home. One year before their wedding, Yaacov-Hirsh and Teibl came to my Mother and announced their upcoming engagement. Mother was very excited. Her first-born son, the pride and joy of her family, was going to build a new family of his own. Half a year later, on Shabat, the engagement ceremony began with Yaacov-Hirsh, Teibl and their families going to synagogue to mark "Shabat Chatan" (Groom's Shabat). He was given the honor of reciting the "Maftir". He was dressed in holiday clothing and she wore a green shirt and skirt. After synagogue, the two families gathered at her parents' home for the engagement party. This included a festive lunch followed by singing and talking. It was a very happy event that cheered everybody in this difficult post war period. Following the engagement party, preparations began for the wedding. The year was 1921. Invitations were sent to family and friends. Special attention was given to personally invite the most important relatives.
The invitation began with Psalm verses, and of course, Jerusalem was never forgotten.
Anyone who got an invitation (and this was the whole shtetl) would send 6-10 "Bulkes" (bread rolls).
Then the two Mothers took the bride to the Chuppa. The Chuppa was outdoors. The groom was already waiting there with all the "Mechutanim" (close relatives). The whole shtetl was watching. The groom was circled seven times. Then he told the bride that he would be faithful to her for as long as he lives, according to the religion of Moses and all of Israel. Then he broke a glass in memory of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. After this, the klezmorim played "Hoy Tate Mame Mach Mir Chasene" (Ho Father, Mother, arrange a wedding for me). They formed a parade. The bride and groom went together, following the klezmorim band. Chaia Sara Mendeleyev was also in front, dancing a "Kosher Tanz" (Kosher Dance). Her job in the Shtetl was to entertain the Bride and Groom. She danced holding a headscarf in one hand and her robe with the other hand. All the people of the shtetl walked behind them until they entered the house.
Seating Order of the GuestsThe important guests were seated near the bride and groom. The more distant relatives were seated farther away. The beggars were standing outside waiting for food. If a guest did not show up, a beggar would be seated at the edge of the table. There were four or five beggars at the wedding.. A well known beggar, Klenzer was his name, arrived at my brother's wedding with two "Turbes" (baskets). He was allowed to collect all the leftovers.
The PartyThe party begins with the gifts ceremony. A big bowl is set on the table for the gifts. All the gifts are money. Each gift is announced by its donor. The announcement would specify whether the donor is from the bride's side or from the groom's side, and how much money was being given. Dinner is served following the gifts ceremony. When dinner is over, the tables are removed and dancing begins. The guests who do not dance, sit or stand around the dancing area and watch. The "Musicants" (musicians) were paid by the in-laws according the number of dances. Many of the dancers would also tip the musicians. The dances at that time were Waltz, Tango and Alexander Trezi (Open the Gate…), Biv Shtaik and Krakoviak. The guests from Volozhin danced the Kadaril. This is a dance where the dancers form long queues of couples joining together. The Vishniveans were too shy to dance Kadaril. They claimed that this dance is suitable for gentiles, and not for Jews. I thought this was a very nice dance. The dancing would go on till early morning. No neighbor would complain about the noise, in spite of the closeness of the houses and the narrow streets. As a little girl I was sneaking and hiding behind the curtains to watch the dancers and the dancing. Mother was too weak to struggle with me and my brother pretended not to see me. I stayed till dawn. I liked the music and the dancing. I had never heard such music before as we were quite isolated in the village.
Seven BlessingsA week after the wedding we do the Seven Blessings. The joy and excitement reach new heights. On Friday, the bride is lighting the candles. On Saturday morning the bride is led to the women's section of the synagogue. Everybody congratulates Mazel Tov, Good Health and Naches. Then the families return home for the Seven Blessings, followed by festive meal, joy and more blessings.
That is how a Jewish couple enters married life.
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