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A Wedding Without Klezmer

My brother Sheldon was the only one in our family to go to college. He was the youngest. My sister and I and our other two brothers were older and working and could afford to contribute to support the home. We were very proud of Shelly as we called him. He was very bright and very handsome. It was the early 1950's and recruiters were coming to the colleges and offering jobs.

After his graduation Sheldon got an offer for employment from a company in Chicago. We were very happy for him. Even though he never gave us details about his life there he seemed to be content. He was living alone for the first time. There was nobody to tell him what to do and nobody to worry about. He said he was enjoying his life there. We did hear from my brother Arnie, who had visited him that Shelley was seeing some girl there. Shelly came home on visits and whenever he came we had a big family get-together.

Chicago skylineIt was on one of these visits, that we noticed that he looked really unhappy. We didn't say anything to him but Mama spoke to him. She attributed his poor appearance to the fact that he wasn't eating well.

A few weeks later we got a call from Arnie. Arnie could hardly speak. He was sobbing and we couldn't understand him.

"What's wrong, Arnie, what's wrong?"

"Sheldon, She-e-lly". "Oh, my God, what happened? What happened?"

I thought the worst.

"Shelly is getting married".

"So, what's so terrible?"

"What's so terrible?" Arnie stammered. "She's not Jewish."

I gulped for a minute and said, "All right, it's not so terrible. I'll call him and we will talk".

I immediately called Shelly. "What's happened Shelly?"

"I'm getting married". Then he started to cry. "And what else, Shelly, is she pregnant?"

"Yes," he said.

"So," I said, "Do you love her? Would you have married her even if she weren't pregnant?"

"Yes", he said.

"So, what's the problem?"

"It's Mama, she'll kill herself. I don't know what to do."

"Don't worry about Mama," I said. "We'll take care of everything."

And we did. The whole family traveled all the way from the Bronx in New York, which was quite a trip. We had to take a bus to the airport and the plane ride made us all nervous. I t was night and when we looked out of the window, all the lights were shining on the ground. Momma asked if there was a string of crystal beads shining. We had shopping bags with cakes and gifts.

Poor Momma and Poppa. They were so quiet and pale. Momma's hands were trembling. Sunday was the day of Shelly's wedding. It also happened to be Easter Sunday and Passover.

We met Mr. and Mrs. Walker and Carol, our new in-laws. They seemed to be lovely people. What else could they be? Didn't Shelly choose their daughter?

The wedding was to be held at the bride's home. Shelly told us that they would be married by a rabbi, even though it was Passover. But Poppa murmured that he doubted that it would be so.

Everything seemed to be so foreign. The Walkers really wanted to please us. In the dining room a table was laid out with the finest foods. There were all kinds of fish, cheeses, matzah and right next to the cottage cheese sat the platter of sliced ham.

We waited patiently for the rabbi to come. There were tears in Mama's eyes as she she looked around at everything. I guess she was wondering how she came to be in this place. Mrs. Walker took her around and said, "Don't worry Mama, everything will be all right".

Poppa was dressed in his best grey suit and wore a grey hat. His face was as grey as his attire. The rabbi finally came and was anxious to begin.

The bride and groom stood up in front of the fireplace under the makeshift huppah. The rabbi stood up in front of them with his book and when he started with "Baruch Atto Adonai", I looked at Papa. His uneasiness seemed to disappear, his shoulders straightened, his demeanor suddenly brightened and he was noticeably more cheerful as he reached into his pocket and took out his yarmulke to put it on his head.

The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." Yiddish for "skullcap," also known in Hebrew as a "kippah," the small, circular headcovering worn by male Jews in most synagogues, and female Jews in more liberal congregations. Traditional Jews were kippot (plural of kippah) all the time. Hebrew for "canopy" or "covering," the structure (open on all four sides) under which a Jewish wedding ceremony takes place. In its simplest for, it consists of a cloth, sheet, or tallit stretched or supported over four poles. Hebrew word for an unleavened bread, traditionally eaten during the holiday of Passover. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.

Pearl Manne was born in New York City and spent her early years on the lower East Side in Manhattan where she lived and observed the world of Jewish immigrants striving to make a new life in America. She is a graduate of Queens College of the City University of New York. She majored in Political Science and worked at George Washington High School in Washington Heights, N.Y., for 20 years. Her work has been seen in several publications in the United States, England, and Canada. She lives with her husband in Monroe Township, N.J.

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