Selection 7: Brave New World // Malky Bornfreund

Their daughter Brachah had gotten married that evening. It was a lovely celebration. Her husband, Gavriel—the quintessential master of ceremonies—had been in his element, conducting the festivities with flair and good humor. They had all stood under the chuppah in their back garden at dusk, as their neighbors craned their necks and smiled over fences and out of windows. Afterwards, they had sat down to dinner. Her children, dressed in their Shabbos finery, had been on their best behavior—“like olive shoots around the table,” she had thought to herself joyously. Her small sons had gazed up at their new brother-in-law, the prince in their midst. He had smiled back at them a little hesitantly, unaware of how they hero-worshipped him.
She had looked at Brachah, breathtakingly lovely in her shimmering emerald-green dress of taffeta and lace that swished delightfully around her ankles when she walked. And her chasan—the “chosen one,” Chedva had dubbed him—standing next to her so earnestly and solicitously. How adorable he was, young and fresh in his pressed suit.
They were congregated around the front door now, saying their goodbyes. But one couldn’t say goodbye without launching into yet another round of gushing blessings; this was a wedding, after all. Sheva, her 15-year-old daughter, was busily snapping pictures again. Her new machateniste Zeldie was standing there, drinking in the picture of the young couple, apple-cheeked with pride and nachas. She wondered if she looked the same way and couldn’t help but grin. The men were discussing divrei Torah. No, they were now gesturing animatedly and discussing the correct use of the couple’s keys to their new apartment. The olive shoots had uprooted themselves and grown wild. Her children were chasing each other around the table, all propriety abandoned. She didn’t mind. They had behaved better than she expected and deserved a little past-bedtime fun. Besides, the sooner Meir Yehudah got to see their true colors, the more heimish they’d all feel around each other.
And quite suddenly, it seemed, it was all over. The guests had departed, along with their laughter and exclamations of “mazal tov” and the clink of espresso cups. All that remained was the resinous, acrid fragrance of Zeidy’s cigar still lingering in the air. She stood by the table, surveying the empty wine glasses and the rumpled napkins. This was it, then.
Brachah was married. She had left the house for the last time. When she returned, it would be as a guest—an honored, welcome guest at her husband’s side. The young couple would say, “Thank you for having us.” She felt her breath catch. She wasn’t losing her daughter—not at all. She was regaining her bathroom. She turned to her husband, who was humming “Eishes Chayil.”
“It was so beautiful!” she sighed rapturously. “Like a dream. Nothing went wrong—nothing! It could not have gone better.”
“Well, it could have been free,” Gavriel pointed out. “That would have been quite a bit of an improvement.”
“Oh, Gavriel, you’re so funny. You can’t have a wedding without spending a dollop of cash. That’s a fact. Still, you’re right. Tonight’s festivities cost a few hundred dollars! The best steaks I could find, three bottles of wine—three! We didn’t even finish them all.”
“Well, it was worth every penny. Baruch Hashem! Chasdei Hashem! Let me help you clear up.”
It was almost 11:00 p.m. before she finally collapsed on her bed, pleasantly drowsy. She would spend a few minutes coordinating her work schedule for the following day and then surrender to blessed sleep. She pulled her oversized leather teaching bag towards her and rummaged through its depths, pulling out folders, a scheduling diary and a plan book. A cheerfully colored flyer caught her eye. Oh, yes, it was that creative writing thing Meira had told her about, some kind of competition. It was officially for the students, but Meira wanted to get the teaching staff involved, too. She was ambitious that way.
“It will build team spirit,” she had explained to her earnestly. “Besides, when our students see us displaying enthusiasm for writing, they’ll be motivated to enter the contest, as well. So you’ll give it a go, yes?”
Creative writing wasn’t really her forte, but Meira was an old friend. She decided she would be a sport and put in a reasonable effort. Now she frowned at the instructions.
“Imagine a world where things are different,” danced the words that straddled the top. “Where people didn’t…” There was a blank space after that. Was that on purpose? It must be. “Where there was no…” Another blank. “Where instead, there was blank, and everybody blanked.”
That Meira! She was expected to fill in the blanks, of course, and write her piece based on the completed statement. But how was she going to come up with something to write about?
“Imagine a world where there was no…something,” she mused out loud.
“What was that?” Gavriel said as he walked into the room carrying two shissels of negel vasser.
“It’s a creative writing competition. For school. The teachers have to do it, too. For our sins, I presume.”
“Oh, I see.”
“You have to help me with this. I’m supposed to imagine some kind of new world. Here, let me read it to you.”
He listened as she read the instructions, his brow furrowed.
“Imagine a world where creative writing competitions weren’t compulsory,” he quipped after she had finished. “And they gave my poor, well-meaning wife a break.”
“Gavriel!” She waggled the flyer at him. “Be helpful! It’s not my fault that I don’t have a very good imagination. Hey, wait. I do have an idea, actually. Imagine a world without electricity. Or technology! What are you making that face for? Don’t be mean. Fine. They’re pathetic ideas, I know. You think of something for me!”
There was a sudden gleam in her husband’s eyes, followed by a dreamy look. “Imagine a world,” he intoned, “where people didn’t make weddings the way we do in ours.” He then fell silent.
“Well,” she prompted him at last. “How would they make chasunos then? Would they wear Pied Piper robes? Would they lounge about on fat cushions on the ground?”
“No,” Gavriel said firmly. “Nothing like that.”
“Then what?”
“They would just do everything completely differently. Weddings would be these enormous affairs.”
“How enormous?”
“Oh, massive. Like many, many guests.”
“How many? Twenty? Thirty? How many people can fit into a dining room?”
“Chedva, these weddings wouldn’t be held in a dining room. They’d be held in a hall, a gigantic ballroom. And the guests would number in the hundreds.”
“What? That sounds ridiculous. Why would they do that?”
“Because, in this brave new world that we’re imagining, that would be the norm.”
“But whom would they even invite?”
“Oh, everyone! Family. Cousins. First, second, third, thrice removed. Mechutanim and their families. Business associates. Neighbors for miles around. Casual acquaintances. And some perfect strangers, too.”
“And these people would actually come?”
“Oh, yes. They would come in droves.”
“Why would they want to intrude on a personal simchah? I mean, it seems so awkward.”
“It wouldn’t be awkward in that world. Simchos would not be personal. They would be very, very public.”
“The baalei simchah would be okay with that? And the guests would really want to attend?”
“Would they be okay with that? I don’t really know, truthfully. But anyway, it wouldn’t matter. In this world, they wouldn’t do what they wanted. They would do whatever had to be done.”
“How horrible!”
“Yes, but they wouldn’t think too much about it, and neither would the guests. They wouldn’t really want to attend but they would feel obligated to show up. And some young men would turn up only for the free drinks.”
“Oh, yuck.” She paused, intrigued in spite of herself. “Well, go on. What else would they do?”
“They would spend weeks—no, months—planning for this one night. They would hire a band and a singer, as well as professional photographers and videographers. A caterer and a team of waiters. A florist. A badchan—”
“What’s that?”
“Sort of like a toastmaster-slash-comedian. It’s something they used to have in the shtetl, but in this world the concept would be modernized and upgraded. Badchanim would cost hundreds of dollars an hour.”
“Wow! What else?”
“The band would play at 150 decibels. The music would be so loud that the bass notes would penetrate your chest and rupture your eardrums. People would have to scream themselves hoarse to be heard above the din.”
“What? No!”
“Yes. And they would dance as the music boomed.”
“Well, we dance, too.” She was remembering how Brachah and Sheva had twirled arm in arm after the chuppah. “At least some of us do.”
“Chedva, this dancing would be compulsory. No one would be exempt and it would last for hours. Women would dance in high heels—”
“Stop it, Gavriel! Ow, ow, ow! It’s too painful to contemplate.”
“Ah, but they wouldn’t complain. It would be a huge social faux pas to suggest that the dancing is anything other than thoroughly enjoyable. You would have to smile brightly all the time and not wince, or nobody would ever redt you another shidduch.”
“That’s beastly! How do you even think of these things? What comes next, dunking their heads in vats of boiling oil?”
“Well, Chedva, one thing is for sure: If it became the norm, they would do that, too.”
“What a ghoulish imagination you have!”
“I haven’t finished. In the runup to the wedding, the chasan and kallah would exchange gifts.”
“Well, we did that. Brachah bought Meir Yehudah a watch for his birthday, and he got her flowers—”
“A watch! Flowers! Ha! We’re talking about gifts of gold and silver. Diamond jewelry and designer watches running into thousands of dollars. Tens of thousands! And these would be obligatory gifts whose laws are set in stone. Neglect to give one, and the shidduch is in jeopardy. Forget the shidduch; the family’s entire reputation would be in jeopardy.”
“So there would be no element of surprise? No gratitude?”
“None at all. It would be almost mechanical. A ritual exchange. Like opening moves in a game of chess.”
“Wait a second, Gavriel. How would these people afford all this stuff?”
“Ah, Chedva. You’ve touched upon a very good point. A sore point. The answer is: They wouldn’t.”
“But how would they—”
“They would kill themselves trying to obtain the money. They’d make themselves ill with stress and worry. They would take out loans, which all too often would never be repaid. And they would remortgage their houses. They would beg, borrow—and yes, even steal—in order for this charade to take place.”
“Gavriel, I couldn’t possibly use this crazy idea. It’s very creative for sure, but it’s way too dark. Besides, it’s outlandish. It’s a parody of normal human behavior.”
“It would fall into the category of science fiction. It’s a very popular genre.”
“I’m not a great writer, just in case you haven’t noticed. Besides, even in science fiction the characters have to have plausible motives! Meira said so, and she’s the creative writing teacher.”
“I’m offended!” Gavriel replied. “I just spent the last ten minutes cooking up this genius idea for you and you’re rejecting it?”
“You’re very kind, I’m sure. But I’m just too prosaic. I could never do it justice. Please, Gavriel, think again. Give me a world I can live in, a world to which we can all relate. A world that feels comfortable and natural—and realistic!”

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