Alter-Sholem Kacyzne


A Jewish Wedding
Deep in fields the klezmers can be heard
Driving horses foaming at the mouth,
Relatives, both poor and rich, arrive
To Reb Sane’s daughter’s wedding feast. [ . . . ]
But from a room where children’s laughter reigns,
There suddenly is heard a scream of fear:
Shloymeles and Moysheles come running
Wide-eyed, to their trembling fathers’ arms.
“Tell us what has happened, children dear!
Don’t all scream at once, let Yankl speak”:
“Daddy, Moyshe-Hersh, Reb Dovid’s boy, he—
Fell down from the bench like he was dead!”
Reb Dovid runs in quickly and then soon
A noisy crowd is pressing at the door.
Attempts are made to help the fainted boy,
It seems, alas, he cannot be revived. [ . . . ]
Before the lifeless body Dovid asks:
“Am I now punished for my sinful deeds?”
The crowd moves back to show him its respect
When Khaye-Hindele enters at the door.
Painfully she drags her feet along.
The burden of her age—a hundred years.
“Jews, be still! I say: it’s no one’s sin.
The story is both beautiful and strange!
Dovid, take the boy out to the street
And never cross the threshold here again!
The rest of you go back to wedding-dance:
The riddle of my words will soon be clear.
Why stand you there in silence—go, be gay!
All is well—the stricken lad is safe.
For you Reb Sane’s house brings joy and luck.
For Dovid from Opatow? Hear me out! [ . . . ]
This house is for Opatowers a curse,
Since many years ago there dwelt in here,
Reb Motele, the martyr of Opatow
A wealthy man, both generous and wise. [ . . . ]
Then livelihood was plentiful for Jews.
But how can Jewish comfort last for long?
A blood-libel arose one evil spring:
A peasant’s little boy had disappeared.
‘You seek the little boy with flaxen hair?
I saw two Jews who whispered right nearby . . .’
The libel-devil, hairy, ugly beast,
Lurks in lofts and stables once again!
At Sunday market: see his naked dance!
See him leap to tavern and to church!
Peasants will not plow their lands this year—
They’ll take revenge upon the Yids instead.
At Motele’s at midnight Jews convene.
The wealthy man speaks calmly, like a father:
‘If I do not erase this libel soon,
My name is not Reb Motl of Opatow!’
His young white horses carry him at dawn,
In sable coat and snow-white flowing beard,
Swiftly to the Duke, who called him friend,
And often turned to Motye for advice.
The Duke sends down his footmen—‘See who’s there.’
Hears: ‘Motele, the rich man from Opatow’
And bellows down: ‘You murderer, you Jew!
Leave my threshold or I’ll have you flogged!’ [ . . . ]
The aged intercessor bows his head,
His hand, in search of something firm to hold,
Blindly grasps a stinging-nettle branch;
He pulls it down to make it whip his face.
Two young white horses quietly plod on,
An old Jew in the coach tears out his hair.
His red and swollen eyes seek any help
That might yet come from off some village path.
‘Gentlemen who drink there in the inn:
To innocents you must not raise your knives!
Pan Motye throws his fortune to you now!
See his golden ducats freely flow!’
‘Let Motye’s ducats fall like golden rain,
They grew in soil he watered with our blood!
Christians, Maciej asks you, do we dare,
Sacrifice more children to the Jews?’
All eyes are turned to Motye as he stands
Poised upon his wagon at his porch.
His brows are dark, his mouth is strangely still.
His finger makes the sign: there is a God!
‘Please, Reb Motye, save us from the knife!
Save us from the peasants’ Easter wrath!’
From beneath his brows comes the reply:
‘My shoulders will protect you like a wall!’
Passover and Easter—the same day!
Jews are at a loss—what shall we do?
The streets now show no sign of Jewish life.
The peasants crowd the market, filled with hate.
The church-bells ring a summons to the town,
Announcing that the violence may start.
Peasants walk the streets with daggers drawn,
To massacre the Jews to the last man.
In cellars and in attics full of dust
Already sensing knives against their throats,
Jews lie in wait like calves before the kill,
They do not cry or weep or even pray.
‘Hand us now the murderer, you Jews!
Can’t you see—for you the game is lost!
We’ll give him what he’s owed, then we’ll go home,
If not—then all of you will have to pay!’
Reb Motele stands at his open door.
His shining face inspires awe and dread:
‘You do not find the murderer you seek?
The murderer was I—I killed the boy!’
Then Maciej blinks his tiny eyes and smiles
And laughs his raucous laugh like drums of tin:
‘Pan Motele, I thought so all along—
Come inside the house and meet your fate!’
Then winks Maciej to this one and to that,
And shapes his face into an evil smile.
Together he and Motele go in,
Alone he comes outside with bloody knife.
The peasant mob is suddenly afraid
And silently departs, as if midweek.
Beside his bloody bed Reb Motye’s kin
Wail and tear their faces with their nails.
‘Cover up my bloody entrails, torn apart . . .
Depart this house and let me die alone.
These walls, who see it all, shall be a curse
Upon Opatow’s children for all time!’
And then at last Reb Motye’s eyes were closed,
His face a death-mask paler than the sheets. . . .
Women! Do not weep—there is a God!
Jews still live and dance at weddings too!
Let the klezmers play the saddest tunes,
For Jewish tears are remedies that heal.
And let the martyr’s ancient curse redeem
Bride and groom from sorrow in their lives.”

Translated by


Alter–Sholem Kacyzne, "Midos," from Gezamelte shriftn (Tel Aviv: Y. L. Peretz Publishing House, 1967), pp. 223, 225–30.

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 8.

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