STEMPENIU: A JEWISH ROMANCE
- SHOLOM ALEICHEM
AND ONCE AGAIN RACHEL
At Haia-Etel's wedding, Rachel wondered just what
was going on in the bride's heart. Rachel didn't talk about this to anyone.
But she was intelligent enough to realize - and her heart even sensed -
that her friend was far from feeling her best as she sat there with her
destined groom, a total stranger, while her own Benjamin was off somewhere
with his wife. Rachel very much wanted to ask Haia-Etel if she had heard
from Benjamin - how was he, had he written? But upon going to her and gazing
into her wan face and hearing her sigh over and over again, Rachel didn't
have the heart to bring him up.
We can imagine that this was the first time in
her life that Rachel thought about such things. Perhaps one real fact in
life can arouse a lot more thoughts and a lot more feelings than ten good
books. Of course, Rachel was a simple Jewish, girl, quite artless, but
she wasn't stupid. Why shouldn't her native intelligence manage to grasp
something? She certainly knew nothing of heroes, of novels, romances, but
she did have a pure heart, a pure Jewish heart. So why shouldn't she be
able to feel another person's sorrows, another person's sufferings? Haia-Etel
and her Jewish romance caused Rachel to suddenly grow a few years older.
At the time, Rachel was also engaged to be married,
and she heard so much praise about her fiance Moyshe-Mendel and all his
virtues that she considered herself the luckiest girl in the world.
"My oh my, aren't you lucky!" she heard on all
"A treasure! A windfall! Isaak-Naphtali is a
rich man, the finest man in Mazepevke, and he has a son, his only child,
and what a boy! A jewel, I tell you!"
And Moyshe-Mendel really was a fine boy and could
appeal to anyone. He was good, lively, he had a talmudic mind, he knew
the Bible inside out. Furthermore, his penmanship was excellent, he had
mastered several scripts, so that the whole town marveled at his writing,
and even Mottl Shpraiz, the "girls' scribe" in Skvirre, saddled his red
nose with a pair of spectacles, perused the bridegroom's handwriting with
the eyes of a mayven, and admitted that the boy had a golden hand, and
if he kept practicing until he got perfect, he would, God willing, be able
Rachel seldom talked with her fiance, for where
was he and where was she? It's quite a way from Mazepevke to Skvirre, and
all in all they met only once, and for only a couple of hours to boot,
and in a whole bunch of people to boot, and with the groom-to-be in one
room and the bride-to-be in another room - to boot. Still, they did exchange
letters almost every week for a whole year, until the wedding. Admittedly,
Mottl Shpraiz (why should we deny it?) played a large part in the correspondence.
For since the boy's letters were in three languages - Hebrew, Russian,
and German - Mottl Shpraiz had to make sure the bride
was not put to shame. And in order to demonstrate
quite plainly that any graduate of Mottl's school had something on the
ball (which couldn't be said about other scribes), Mottl saw to it that
the bride's letters contained a fourth language, French, or rather French
characters, in which Mottl was utterly proficient. Altogether, one may
say that the groom and the bride played their writing game throughout a
year, and they stopped only when the real preparations began for the wedding.
The wedding went off like all Jewish weddings.
The bride's side didn't act quite properly, they weren't quite genteel,
rather Jewish. . . . And the groom's side pouted and chaffed a bit and
called the father-in-law a pig behind his back, which he fully deserved.
But so what, it didn't matter: They had a drink, as people do; they made
up again; the bride took leave of all her near and dear; they accompanied
her till just beyond the town; they hugged, they kissed; they wept; they
were sending away a daughter - and she was being taken away, to live with