Kirshenblatt, Mayer (1916-2009)
The Black Wedding in the Cemetery, ca. 1892, April 1996
Acrylic on canvas
36 x 48 in.
Collection of Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and Max Gimblett, New York.
Photographed by Tom Warren, with the assistance of Anthony Fodero.
"The memorial book for Apt recounts how another holy rabbi helped the town during a cholera epidemic in 1892. Everyone few days someone died. In a community of about six thousand, that was a calamity. Prominent citizens went to the holy rabbi, imploring him to say a few prayers to the Almighty. Maybe the epidemic would subside. The rabbi thoughtfully replied, 'Let's try a wedding in the Jewish cemetery. Perhaps the dearly departed will intervene with the Holy One to help.' It is considered a great mitsve, or good deed, to help the poor to marry. All that was needed was a bride and groom.
The matchmakers got busy. In town there was a young bachelor who was supported by the community. His job was to clean the communal bath. Each week he drained the water and replaced it with a fresh supply. He also kept the fire going in the mikve so that the water would always be hot. He lived in the hegdesh, a room where the burial society kept the implements for cleaning the dead. On being approached, the young man gladly accepted.
Now a bride was needed. There was in town a young lady, an orphan (...) She was what is called a kalekhdike yesoyme, a round orphan, because she had absolutely no relatives. In exchange for place to sleep on top of the oven, her daily bread, and a few cast-off clothes, she did the housework for a well-to-do family. She received no wages. On being approached, she also gladly agreed.
A proclamation was issued in the synagogue, the houses of study, and the Jewish schools that a black wedding, a shvartse khasene, would be held in the cemetery at a designated time. Everyone was to attend."
Mayer talks about the cholera epidemic in 18921 that befell the citizens of Apt (Opatów) and the "black wedding" that occurred there in the hope that this would cause the epidemic to subside. Listen to it.