STEMPENIU: A JEWISH ROMANCE
- SHOLOM ALEICHEM
What was all the excitement about in Mazepevke?
Haym ben-Tsion Glock was marrying off his youngest daughter, his fledgling,
Rivke. So why not celebrate and rejoice with him? His wedding was the place
to be. After all, he was, so they say, one of the richest men in town.
Everybody and his uncle would be there. Some for friendship, some for envy,
some for duty, some to show off their wives' pearls, earrings, or the new
necklace brought back from the county fair; but more than anything-for
Stempeniu. In short, everyone attended the festivities! All of Mazepevke
rejoiced at Rivke's wedding. Not to mention Isaak-Naphtali and his wife
and children, for Isaak-Naphtali was Haym ben-Tsion's partner in the store
and in the mill, as well as a distant relation, that is to say, Isaak-Naphtali's
wife Dvosse-Malke was sort of distantly related to Rivke's mother, a cousin
once removed on her mother's side.
No wonder Dvosse-Malke was veiled and bedizened
like a genuine member of the family. She bustled around and didn't do anything,
but she waved her arms and shouted and made a racket as though she were
doing something. And her beautiful daughter-in-law, Rachel, stood next
to the bride, bedecked and bejeweled like a princess, her big blue eyes
shone like two big diamonds and her red cheeks glowed like two blossoming
roses. Her one hand held the bride's loosened hair, which the women, copiously
weeping, had unbraided for the veiling ceremony. And her other hand stroked
her white throat. And she never noticed two black burning eyes staring
at her all the while ....
The servants scurried about like chickens without
heads. The in-laws were clamoring: "Oh God! Oh God! It's time for the veiling!
How long can we torment the children, they've been fasting for a whole
summer's day already!" Everyone shouted: "It's time! It's time!" But no
one did anything. Isaak-Naphtali wandered about in a velvet cap, his hands
behind his back like a preacher, and Dvosse-Malke was raising the roof.
The other relatives on both sides were dashing past one another, sticking
out their hands as though they wanted to do something but couldn't get
anything to do.
"Well, why aren't they doing anything?" asked
the groom's family.
"Why aren't they starting to do something?" answered
the bride's family.
"Have you ever seen the like before? Making children
starve that long!" shouted the groom's family.
"Have you ever heard the like before? Making
children starve this long?" shouted the bride's family.
"Why's everyone chasing back and forth?"
"What's all this running around anyway?"
"Everyone's running, everyone's making a racket,
and they're not even budging! A fine state of affairs!"
"Just running and raising a racket-and no one's
willing to do anything!"
"Hasn't there been enough talk already? It's
time for action! There's a limit to everything!"
"C'mon already! Stop all the talking! Let's get
going! Isn't there a limit?!"
"Where are the musicians?" asked the groom's
"The musicians! Where are they?" answered the
And the musicians were busy getting ready. They
polished the bows, they tuned the instruments. Yokel the Bassist yanked
a boy along by the ear, warning him softly: "You little bastard, I'll teach
you to pluck strings!" Mekhtshi the Drummer scratched the bristly half
of his face, not deigning to glance at anyone. Haykel the jester was talking
to an acquaintance, a teacher, he took a pinch of snuff from him with two
fingers and poured out a cascade of jokes. And the other musicians, the
boys with swollen cheeks and buckteeth like shovels, stood around Stempeniu,
discussing an important matter with him in their jargon:
"Who's the chick next to the frau-to-be?" asked
Stempeniu in musician's lingo, staring at lovely Rachel. "Hey, Rakhmiel!"
he said to one of the swollen-cheeked apprentices. "Go and check
her out, but snappy, man, snappy!"
Rakhmiel quickly came back with a clear answer:
"That's no chick, man, she's already hitched. Dig, she's Isaak?Naphtali's
daughter?in?law, and she comes from Skvirre. That's her of man over there.
The one with the velvet cap!"
"You're too much, baby!" said Stempeniu cheerily.
"You checked it out that fast? Man, she is really dynamite! A righteous
chick! Dig those eyes!"
"If you like," the swollen-cheeked boy asked
Stempeniu, "I'll go and rap with her . . . ."
"Go to hell!" replied Stempeniu. "No one asked
you to be my go-between, dig! I'll do my own rappin' with her!"
"Hey man!" cried Shneyer-Meyer in their jargon.
"Just throw those big black eyes of yours out from the fiddle. Pull some
Jewish guts out of those strings! . . ."
Stempeniu picked up his fiddle, nodded to the
others, and they got their instruments ready.