Yiddish makes a comeback at mock shtetl wedding

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The kale (bride) wore cream.

Her entourage — two smiling sisters swathed in pink tikhls (hair coverings) — followed her into the banquet hall and walked slowly to their sister's chair, concentrating on her train, their own lengthy skirts and their golden aprons.

Across the room, the khosn (groom) was already seated at the table. The badkhn (wedding jester) was ranting about the importance and seriousness of the day. The father and future father-in-law were calming the khosn's increasing anxiety. The men were all listening attentively as they gulped shots of schnapps and adjusted their streiml (fur-brimmed hats) and kapotes (long coats).

This was no ordinary wedding.

This was a simulation of a shtetl wedding coordinated by the newly formed Columbia University Yiddish Club. All the relatives, sisters, brothers and friends — who had supposedly traveled to the wedding from Galicia, Warsaw, Bialistok, Chemovitz and beyond — were actually students, rabbis and professors who, in fact, lived nearby. Genuine or not, the wedding party and the guests had come to celebrate Yiddish culture.

Modeled on the Broad-way musical, "Tony and Tina's Wedding," this was the first event in Columbia's Yiddish festival.

Student Sara Benor decided some time ago that the university needed a Yiddish festival. She formed a planning committee and in turn, the Columbia Yiddish Club. The festival committee members, comprising undergraduates and graduate students alike, met weekly for about three months. With a lot of help from professors, generous sponsors and friends, the festival took off.

The crowd in John Jay Lounge numbered some 300, and all watched attentively as the bride, Frumke Reizl, walked tentatively down the aisle escorted by her mother, mother-in-law, sisters and female friends. They were all holding lighted candles to ward off the eiyn hore (the evil eye).

The bride was nervous, of course, as she had never even seen her future husband. As she elegantly strode to the chupoh (wedding canopy), Reizl caught glimpses of her husband and let out a muffled cry. But there was no turning back ; the tnoyim (wedding conditions) had already been agreed to, and a plate had been broken, symbolizing that just as a shattered plate could not be put together again, so too the tnoyim could not be changed.

The khosn waited nervously, accompanied by Rabbi Charles Sheer, who played the masader kedushin (master of ceremonies) and is one of Columbia's Jewish chaplains.

The ceremony was brief. At its conclusion, the guests shouted "Mazel tov!" as the groom, Kalman Azriel, broke a glass to commemorate the destruction of the temple. The musicians struck up a melody and everyone pushed their chairs aside and began to dance, women on one side and men on the other.

After about 15 minutes, the khosn and kale returned from yikhud, their first moments ever spent alone together, and the festivities really took off.

Chicken soup was served to show just how golden the new couple's life together would be. Then came kugel, chicken, tsimmes and compote. Guests ate, then danced.

By all accounts, the wedding was a success in exposing students to Yiddish. "We want people to know that Yiddish is not dead, and that it is a beautiful language that goes hand-in-hand with a rich cultural tradition," said Benor.