« PreviousContinue »
she passed eighteen last Pentecost and then — I beg a thousand pardons — she is by no means as beauteous as the day — and — ” Thus reasoned Chayim Parch, the “Shadchen ” (marriage broker), with the happy, and yet unhappy, father of Bashke and numerous other daughters following close upon her heels.
The Jew, against whom in general in Russia so many discriminations are made, is, in the army especially, exposed to unspeakable molestations, mockery, and privations. So great, therefore, do parents abhor the very thought of their sons becoming soldiers that they would almost rather see them dead and the maiming of boys in their infancy in order thus to disable them for military service is of daily occurrence despite the stringency of the Russian code. The parents of an only son (free from duty ) deem themselves the possessors of a priceless “Kohinoor” to be captured by an heiress only. As great as is the detestation of the thought of their sons becoming soldiers, even so is the aversion to the marriage of their daughters to prospective soldiers, and every father of a marriageable daughter resorts to heroic efforts to procure for her a husband exempt from military duty.
Reb Mottl, though blessed with many daughters, had but few earthly possessions. He, therefore, did not even dream of ever being able to attain to an only son for Bashke, the oldest, but set about seeking one with a “ Cheesoron” (bodily disablement), in proportion with the few rubles which for many years he had been carefully laying by for that purpose. Yet, now that his desire was about to be consummated, his paternal heart rebelled against uniting his child in wedlock with Alter, whom his mother, or the midwife, had provided with an “'ayker” as soon as the infant was found to be a boy, with the growth of which that of his body did not keep pace. Thus was he not only disabled for the army, but for aught else as well. The very fact of his name being “ Alter," the Old, often given to boys of delicate health, signified his infirmity.
After an exhaustive three years' search, in which the services of Chayim Parch were called into requisition, that worthy gentleman expressed himself as recounted at the outset of this story, assuring the chagrined father that he was at his “ Shadchanic" wits' end and declaring Alter the only alternative of “to be or not to be.” To lend strength to his argument of the perfect propriety and fitness of such a match, he was now endeavoring to even matters up by depreciating the merits of the young lady in question. In order to spare himself the agony of listening further, Reb Mottl absented himself, returning presently with a “Karfinke,” decanter, and two glasses. Chayim Parch rejoiced doubly when he beheld the brandy bottle, for besides his love for its contents, he well knew that it betokened submission and a readiness to enter into negotiations. Reb Mottl, however, bit with a heavy heart into the sour apple. It took all the skill of which a “Shadchen” is usually possessed, and of which Chayim was no exception, to appease his fears that Alter would be unable to provide for a wife.
“Do you not know,” remonstrated the “Parch,” “ that Alter is an artist, a real artist? For weeks before each holiday his skill is in demand by all the boys of the town, for none can make better ‘Draidlach' (tops) for Hanucca, carve finer swords for Tisha b’Ab, make louder sounding ‘Grechotas' (whirligigs) and 'Hooman Kleppers' (knucklebones) for Purim, and his services are eagerly sought after before Pesach as a Matzoth‘stippler' (perforator), to say nothing of the wonderful soldiers and animals which he draws and paints every year for Shevuos. So great is his reputation that some orders are placed with him a whole year in advance."
It is customary for the Jews in most countries to decorate their houses of worship for Shevuos, the Feast of Weeks. In this country, Germany, France, Italy and throughout Southern Europe choice flowers and potted plants are used, while in Poland and some parts of Russia the decorations of the home, as well as the synagogue, are an important factor to enhance the joy of the feast. The walls and ceilings of the rooms are covered with branches of the green trees and with “ Bleeshtsh,” a kind of reed. Nature frequently bestows her talents upon the youths of the Talmud schools. Among