Translated and edited by Joachim Neugroschel


We left Rachel in the middle of the veiling lunch, standing by the door and staring at the huge marketplace of the town of Mazepevke. She was deep in her thoughts, which we spoke about earlier. However, her thoughts were quickly interrupted by our bold friend Stempeniu.
This fine fellow, who had an eye on Rachel, noticed her leaving the table. He waited a bit and then went out after her. Stopping by the door, he started a conversation about his town, Mazepevke, and her town, Skvirre. He knew her town very well, all its little bridges, all its fine sights, like the palm of his hand, as they say. And he also talked to her about the city of Yehupets, he had heard she'd been there once. Rachel only replied to every tenth word.
"How come," Stempeniu asked her, "how come nobody ever sees you takin' a walk, not even on Shabbes or holidays? You've been livin' here for almost a year, more 'n a year, and no one ever sees you on Berditchev Street. You live so far away, at the end of town, I didn't even know you were here .... I only found out yesterday when I saw you . . . . I wanted to rap with you a little yesterday, but I couldn't . . . . You know what these Jewish towns are like. You start to talk, and soon everyone else is talkin' about you .... Listen, just go for a walk on Saturday afternoon on Berditchev Street .... The whole town's out there.... Positively, you hear? Positively, Saturday afternoon, on Berditchev Street!"
Rachel didn't have time to answer, because her devoted mother-in-law Dvosse-Malke had noticed she wasn't at the table. She went to look for her, and when she found her standing outside by the door with Stempeniu, she was a bit surprised at first: "Why is she suddenly standing there with him?" However, Stempeniu, who was generally rather cunning and knew what to do in such cases, instantly turned to Dvosse-Malke:
"We're talking about the wedding, the rebbe's wedding in Skvirre.... Your daughter-in-law was still a child back then, when I played at the rebbe's wedding. She doesn't remember it at all...."
"Of course not. How is she supposed to remember?" Dvosse-Malke replied. "But I remember it very well. I was there with my husband, and we spent the night outdoors because the town was so jammed."
"Jammed?" Stempeniu went on. "I can tell you a lot more." And he launched into a lengthy conversation with Dvosse-Malke about different things, smooth-talking his way out of the predicament. And meanwhile, Rachel excused herself and went back indoors to the bride. We've already said that Stempeniu had a way with words, and we have to tell you about another quality of his: He could talk with elderly women, chatter glibly, wind them around his little finger - he had a tongue in his head, and he spoke like an angel. There's an old saying: "An educated witch is worse than a born witch." When it came to glibness, Stempeniu was a sage. He had been to a good school, as we shall see.
"He's got his nerve," Rachel thought to herself "Ordering me to be on Berditchev Street on Saturday afternoon - positively! Positively? He won't have it any other way? What an idea! Only a musician could talk like that!"
These were the dark thoughts with which Rachel came back in to the wedding. And when the dear Holy Sabbath came, and her in-laws and also Moyshe-Mendel lay down for their naps to take a bit of Sabbath pleasure from their sweet sleep - which Jews have thought the world of since time immemorial - Rachel, as usual, sat down alone at the window and stared out into the street, humming a song to herself. There, on the street, as on every Sabbath, she saw girls with freshly washed hair, with blue ribbons in their braids, with red, yellow, green dresses, with gloves, and with shiny - new, squeaky shoes. They were going out for their "promenade" on Berditchev Street. They wanted to show off their red or blue ribbons, their red, yellow, green dresses. They wanted to have a far look, in passing, as is our custom, at the boys, at the handsome boys in cloth coats, long trousers, and with shiny vizors on their Sabbath caps. The girls would then modestly lower their eyes, and their cheeks would turn crimson with embarrassment, and their hearts .... In short, they were going to live it up!
Rachel knew all about it. Why shouldn't she? After all, she herself had once been a girl with red and blue ribbons in her braids, and she herself once went strolling down the promenade with a bunch of girls on a Sabbath afternoon. But now?
Rachel looked around. Everybody was fast asleep and snoring heartily. Everybody! She was the only one sitting there, as though among dead people, as though among real corpses. She leaned her head on her hands, deep in thought, and remembered an old song she used to sing when she was a girl:

All alone,
As lonesome as a stone,
No one to talk to,
Only myself alone,
As lonesome as a stone,
No one to talk to -
"Good Shabbes!"
Rachel lifted her head and saw - Stempeniu.
"I said: Good Shabbes!"
"What's this? What's he doing here?" Rachel was about to ask and move away from the window.
"A good Sabbath to you too!" she replied, turning as red as a beet.
"You didn't listen to me, you didn't go out to Berditchev Street...? I kept lookin' for you for nothin'.... Well, I.... that is to say.... Well, just read this!"
And Stempeniu handed Rachel a folded leaf of paper and quickly vanished from sight.
Rachel held the sheet of paper for a long, long time, not knowing what to do with it, not understanding what it was, what it meant.... Once her initial surprise was gone, she unfolded what turned out to be a large sheet of music paper, she saw huge letters, plain Yiddish words with a lot of mistakes:
My deerest angel in the sky, wen I saw your raydiant shape, both my eyes felt raydiant in a raydiant fire with my hart, burning with grate love for you my sole wich your hevenly eyes have with your raydiant shape drawn to you from the verry first, you are my life, the life of my hart my soul I cannot sleep I dream for you are the lite in the darkness in eyes I love you like my verry owne life for ever I wership the groun you wawk on I kiss your lovely eyes from farr away
Back to library

Back to
Back to Shtetl