The wedding was going full blast, with the joyful Jewish music playing. The sound of the violin awoke unfulfilled longings and triggered moisture in the eyes.
The guests, dressed in their most elegant clothing, featured glittering diamonds twinkling on the throats and arms of the ladies. The dancing guests twirled round and round to the sound of the music. Faster and faster they went, beads of perspiration forming on their made-up faces. Some of the guests just stood in the corner and, with sad eyes and a crooked smile on their lips, followed the merry dancers on the floor.
The young bridesmaids, in their colorful gowns with flowers in their hair and dreamy expressions on their faces, were very dignified as they walked down the aisle to the front of the chapel. Next came two little girls dressed in pink, clumsily strewing the aisles with petals from their little baskets – automatically inducing a smile on the faces of the guests. The groom followed, led by his parents who held lighted, flickering candles. Finally, the beautiful bride entered, dressed all in white. She slowly walked down the aisle with her parents on each side of her. They approached the chuppah, which was covered with a wild variety of flowers. The scent pleasantly lingered in the air.
Listening to the soft sounds of the rabbi’s words, my eyes were drawn to my dear friend, the mother of the bride. Our eyes met and clung. All of a sudden I felt my eyes filling with tears that I felt powerless to control. A flood of memories from our mutual past overwhelmed me. A vision of another wedding rose vividly before my eyes, as if it had taken place only yesterday – though it actually took place a few centuries ago.
It was the end of November 1945, a few months after the liberation of the Jews. The scene was a displaced persons camp named Weksheid, not far from Linz, an Austrian city famed for the cruelty of some of its inhabitants during the war. A handful of people were gathered in the street to attend a wedding ceremony. The air was chilly. A light drizzle of icy rain was falling and the small group, miserably huddled together and clinging to each other for warmth and support, was soon drenched. An agonized sob here and there cut the air in the stillness of the night.
In the center of the knot of people, four sticks supported a khaki army blanket. Underneath it, bride and groom, dressed ordinarily, stood shivering from the cold. The sound of broken glass was heard. The rabbi extended the kesubah and the newlywed couple, surrounded by their friends (myself among them), walked back to the barracks we called home.
In the barracks, a long table laden with sandwiches specially prepared for the occasion beckoned to the guests. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a bottle of whiskey showed up on the table. A drop for everybody produced some much- needed color in the drained faces of the assembled guests. Shyly, I stole a look at the farthest corner of the barrack and noticed that the same army blanket that minutes ago had served as the chuppah now served as the room divider. It closed off a tiny corner of the overcrowded barrack for the newly married couple.
Cries of “mazel tov, mazel tov” abruptly brought me back to the present.
You guessed it. The mother of the bride was the bride that rainy unforgettable day.
I slowly approached the young beaming couple. Choked up, I mumbled my good wishes to them and was about to add something more but the quizzical expression on their faces stopped me. Quickly, I turned around and embraced my old friend. Our tears mingled. We had no need for words.