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Two Step

After attending one cookie-cutter Orthodox wedding after another, a question arises: Are these rituals being performed in meaningful ways?

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I squeeze through the last defense of women and sidle up to my mother, in her navy blue chiffon.

“Hey,” I say.

“I remember the Mezinke Tantz,” she says, smiling wistfully. “Bubbe and Zayde used to talk about it.”

“Really?” I ask. I never knew that.

“Sure. They used to do this all the time in Europe. We even did it for Feter Pinyah.” My Uncle Paul.

Now I’m actually shocked. I thought I knew everything there was to know about my grandparents, who were raised in Poland and ended up in displaced-persons camps after the war, before immigrating to America. Silly as it may seem, I feel as though I have to recreate my knowing of them. I feel young and ignorant.

My mother notices but she doesn’t say anything. She’s standing on the balls of her feet, trying to see above the crowd, and I start craning my neck, too. It’s a remarkable sight. There, on the other side of where the mechitzah used to be, sit the mother and father of the groom. In the mother’s hand is a Rubbermaid broom and she’s swatting at her son, presumably sweeping him out of the house. The crowd begins to clap in time to the Hasidic klezmer niggun. The vibrato of the sax plays against the high-pitched trilling of the clarinet, and the DJ is singing his refrain: De mezinke os-gegeben, de mezinke os gegeben. The pinky’s given away, the pinky’s given away.

I’m entranced. It’s as though, by watching this scene, I’m retroactively getting to know my grandparents all over again—even though they’re long gone. I’ve been given the chance to glimpse the world they left behind. A part of me is tempted to “keep score” again, take mental notes as I do with everything else at these weddings. But now, this is no longer anything like those other weddings. This is different: It’s authentic.

***

When I get back to my apartment, I slide off the ratty sandals—my Keds have holes in them—and peel off the Jackie Kennedy. I pause for a moment, trying to sort through my thoughts. I think back to the girl who brushed my shoulder and feel a little annoyed. Along with the rest of her educated-in-America-but-not-really-American cohorts, she lives in a world that holds shtetl Europe as the paradigm of Jewish observance. And yet, they’re so assimilated—not to America, per se, but to American Orthodoxy—that when they see something too authentic, when they see something that actually smacks of Europe, they balk.

And this, I suddenly realized, was why I’d been keeping count all along. If we had to uproot ourselves from America the way we did from Europe, and create for ourselves a new community elsewhere, which of these traditions would remain because they’re integral to the core we’re trying to perpetuate, and which are just hollow luxuries that we wouldn’t want, or be able to afford, to bring with us?

Unlike me, that mezinke-hater isn’t bothered by the homogenization of Jewish weddings. She takes it for granted that brides and grooms should and will follow these rules down to every last nuance—without anyone applying any rigorous thought or feeling to what does and doesn’t contain real meaning. After all, this is the Jewish community we’ve tried so hard to rebuild in post-Holocaust America. And apparently we’ve succeeded, because now we no longer remember we’re modeling it off of anything.

But if this young woman wants to live in a bubble—complete with all its trappings—then she must also acknowledge the bubble it came from and give credence to it. It was far more authentic than this one is. And that’s the irony: I’m a modern woman. While I appreciate the world my grandparents came from, I make no pretense of trying to replicate it. I love America and always will. But when it comes to the real customs of real people—for that, I have respect.

I’m the youngest in my family. Theoretically, I’m the mezinke. Not that I’m getting married any time soon. But when, God willing, I do, I’ve got my broom ready.

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Hi Mindy
At least they did the mezinka. At a wedding I recently attended the grooms Mom sneered at me and said that their family didn’t “sweep their kids out of the house.” Customs like the mezinka tanz add flavor. If you want more shetl flavor check out kosherhomecooking.com for some wierd, and wacky edible minhagim. Best

Yossi B says:

Great article!

“Not that I’m getting married any time soon. But when, God willing, I do, I’ve got my broom ready.”

B’sha’ah tovah, Mindy.

Susan R says:

Hi Mindy! At my (non-Orthodox, been in the USA since the 1880′s) wedding we did it– Matt was the last, but not the youngest. I think I remember that his mom asked for the dance–and of course the band (Maxwell St) knew it. No actual broom.

Nice article!

Mizinke means “youngest daughter.” Pinky is “miiznkl.” The song makes more sense that way.

While there are exceptions, I’ve seen more diversity and differences in dati leumi weddings in Israel. Ditto for “out of town” weddings in the US. You could probably make the same case for other middle/upper middle class US sub-societies.

Shmuel says:

You know, towards the end there is some really thoughtful content to your article.

But…the rest….snotty & snobby. Who appointed you the judge & jury of what is authentic & truthful?

you write: “She takes it for granted that brides and grooms should and will follow these rules down to every last nuance—without anyone applying any rigorous thought or feeling to what does and doesn’t contain real meaning.”

Do you know what every bride & groom is thinking when they plan their wedding? when they end up doing so much like everyone else?

Your thoughts about the mezinke dance are really nice. Too bad you couldn’t just write about that without trying to establish your cultural superiority to all the cookie cutter Modern Orthodox Jews out there.

Re:
“u’shafteh mayim steps, because there isn’t enough room to the do the real u’shafteh mayim.

You must mean “ush’avtem mayim.”

Well, Kate, good thing she’s an English teacher then and not a Hebrew teacher…

Gideon says:

I just want to point out that this is the second google-recorded use of the word “tzniufy”. I have already unified the authors of the two pieces in question by email. (The other piece is here: http://curiousjew.blogspot.com/2009/08/i-welcomed-shabbat-queen-part-4.html

Cloggie says:

I am Sefardi and never saw this tradition until a few years ago. I don’t take issue with people doing it at their own weddings, but if my husband’s [Ashkenazi] parents had wanted to do the dance, it would have been a major issue. I still find the concept of sweeping away the children to be unsettling.

I’m also glad the writer didn’t come to my wedding. It was very different from the weddings she has been to but not up to her $$$$ standards.

Hi Mindy, Mazel tov on yet another beautiful article. Your writing style beautifully captures the various scenes at this wedding and makes the reader feel like he/she is right there with you. The ideas raised in this article, particularly having respect for the “real customs of real people” and the assimilation of American Orthodoxy are right on. The concepts are also applicable to many other areas in observance within Judaism in 5772 as well, whether ritual, cultural or interpersonal. Thank you for writing this. I hope you’re enjoying the comments and chodesh tov! :)

Mindy – I have to say, I felt the same way you did several years ago, and even when planning my own wedding, tried to make it as unique as possible, while still within the standard framework. But now that I’m older, and don’t get to dance at so many weddings….I actually enjoy the comfortable pattern of these weddings! I love standing in a room full of people so happy for one couple, while thinking how while we’ve assimilated so much in so many ways, we still get married more or less the same way we did hundreds of years ago…

Yaakov says:

“It was far more authentic than this one is”

…how so? By virtue of its longevity? Or the fact that our (great-) grandparents still practiced in this “more authentic” way?

This article started by asking what we actually get from scriptural or halachic sources–a very good question. While post-Holocaust American Orthodox Judaism is more technologically integrated than pre-Holocaust European Orthodox Judaism, and cares less about some halachot (and more about others), neither is remotely close to a direct interpretation of the Torah, or the Talmud. I too have madd respect for traditions that have proven their longevity, but they are no less derivative than those sanctified by the current instance of Orthodox Judaism.

John doe says:

Sehr gut mindy.

I use cookie cutters when I want to accomplish the same thing in each new cookie that I successfully accomplished in the one before.
I remember once noticing that I had become unusually involved the exceptionally lovely aesthetics of a particularly “fine,” non-cookie-cutter-type chassanah. After deeming the entree not quite as fabulous as everything else, I balked. I am ashamed to say that I’d lost focus and forgotten that I was supposed to be there for the chasson and callah…not the other way around.
I’ve decided that I like the cookie-cutter type weddings…less distracting.

Naftoli says:

Loved the article!

My understanding of the mezinka tanz is that it was more of a celebration of the youngest child getting married and that the parents have ‘done their duty’, so to speak, in ensuring that all their children have now ‘left the nest’.
I have never seen the broom used and, at the weddings I attended, the family all danced together in a circle. It always seemed to me as this dance was a joyous and very personal time for the family.

Yaella says:

This is so cleverly written, I really enjoyed reading it. Thank you!

Chaim says:

Hi, Mindy, you don’t know me, but I remember you from Chicago — my daughter went to Akiba, and I’ve enjoyed your writing. There’s an old joke that one of the most important points in wedding planning is selecting an appropriate groom. Likewise, the key to a truly “authentic” wedding, rather than a simulation or reproduction, is an authentic bride and groom who know who they are, what they value, and why. Best wishes for finding your beshert in 5772!

I completely related to your description of the weddings and the “accounting” you do in your head at them. Your ultimate point, though… Not so much. In fact, I’m not even sure what it was. That there is not enough appreciation of “tradition” today? That we’re focusing on the wrong part of the wedding, in obsessing over the dresses and the flowers?

If that’s your point, it’s a good one. I just didn’t feel like you made it very clear.

Mindy, I appreciate some of your points but ultimately find your piece rather judgmental. The point of a wedding was never to be “unique” or “different.” It is to seal a holy union, and for all the guests to make the bride and groom happy during this holy time. At a wedding, what makes it unique is that these two holy souls are joining. You didn’t mention that the bride and the groom are different. I’ve been to countless weddings where I know for a fact that brides and grooms were highly cognizant of the real point.

Oh Goody, another Tablet article that goes for snark and aloof disdain rather than a real discussion raised in the opening paragraph.

What a joy you must be at these affairs. 

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Two Step

After attending one cookie-cutter Orthodox wedding after another, a question arises: Are these rituals being performed in meaningful ways?

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