Berdl the Goniff and the Great Baby Exchange
Berdl, our shtetl’s crafty thief, prankster, mischief-maker and carrier of clandestine messages has stolen many things. However, let it be said in his defense, that he has never, ever stolen—or even really borrowed—a baby. In fact, he has never, as far as he knows and I know and the people of the town know, made a baby.
So then how did our dear Berdl get involved with more than a dozen babies? Well, it’s not a long story, so if you sit and have another cup of tea, I might be able to tell you.
To begin at the beginning, it began with a wedding. Now a wedding is a good beginning—both for a story and for a life. When two people stand together under the bridal canopy and then make their marks on the ketubah, the marriage contract, it is cause for celebration. If the bride’s parents are living, they feel blessed and relieved to see a daughter leave their room-and-board and go to join the mainstream of the community. Similar feelings can also be observed in the groom’s parents. The community celebrates to welcome the couple over the threshold between childhood and the responsible existence of adults. The community, if the truth were known, also celebrates because life is not always easy and everybody likes a party.
The size and shape of the party depend on many things. If a rich man’s daughter marries the son of a wealthy man, then the party becomes the subject of shtetl reminiscences and legends for many years to come. The daughter of a well-to-do father who is joined with the scholarly son of a great rabbi can also expect to see her parental house filled wall-to-wall with people on the day of her wedding. To be invited to eat, drink and dance at such a wedding is a great honor and is usually preceded by the construction of a huge appetite.
Another large wedding, one where everyone who is well enough to walk may assume himself or herself to be invited, is the uniting of the son or daughter of someone particularly beloved by the community. At such a wedding, there is also great feasting. It may not be on the same slaughter-the-fatted-calf level as the event hosted by the prosperous parents, but who wouldn’t want to come and celebrate the joy of a well-loved rabbi or teacher? Of course, it is interesting to point out how the adored are not often affluent and the affluent are seldom adored, but that is the matter for another story.