Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Morris Rose's Speech on his Golden Wedding Anniversary, August 26th, 1923

For me, the hand-written speech below was a bit of a revelation. 

I'd seen the B&W photographs of Morris Rose (my mother's father's father) celebrating his golden wedding anniversary to his wife, Deborah Bogad, in NYC in 1923.  Already a few years before my parents were even born.  But never knew of this speech celebrating that occasion. 

Fortunately, my brother, Bruce, had carefully kept the original hand-written letter he received from our father (who wisely collected everything). 

Over the past week, Bruce and I have carefully transcribed Morris' handwriting so that this historic speech is easier to read (with a few footnotes, as well).
Looking back, Morris and Deborah began their lives in a small town in the Pale of Settlement along the Russian-Polish-Lithunian borders.  But, like many others of their generation, they chose to cross the Atlantic with their small children sometime in the 1880s to make the uncertain passage toward fresh opportunities and inchoate dreams within America. 

No doubt events in Russia (particularly the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 and the anti-semitic pograms that followed) motivated their decision to leave their home, like millions of Eastern European Jews at the turn of that century, to make a new life in the US. 

Morris and Deborah's decision to uproot from one known traditional world to the unknown 5,000 miles away has been the foundation for hundreds of other lives in the secular United States.  
First, in Russia, then Connecticut and NYC, they birthed their five children (Anna Sophie, Jacob, Sam, Boris Max, Ben-Henry) between 1881-97.  Then their children, all immigrants to America except my grandfather, Ben-Henry, found their ways to survive in the new world, married, and brought to life a score of grandchildren (among them my mother, Priscilla) who then, in their turn, married and through their special loves brought into the world dozens of great grandchildren (that's me & us) -- each of whom has striven to fulfill his or her own ambitions, hopes, dreams and karma, while adding scores more great great grandchildren (including our Joshua, Ezra and Leah Rose) across the seasons of our lives and decades of the 20th and 21st centuries. 

I can't say about others, but for me it's hard not to feel a certain wistfulness and inexplicable emotion to hear this man, my unknown great-grandfather, long gone from this world, through these words express his thoughts in what was most likely his second or third language (English) with such clarity, simplicity and love. The touches of Hebrew or Yiddish in his formal speech with references to his Jewish life give his pre-war world a stability, consistency and reassurance that has passed away for many of us.

Maybe because of that there are some old world expressions spoken by Morris Rose that were beyond the capacity of Bruce and me to understand.  Someday, we hope that others may help us to better understand those idioms.  If we're fortunate, some distant relatives will find other forgotten hand-written letters or typed communications in their files or boxes from those distant generations.

Their world is long gone, but for those of us who find meaning in personal narratives, the earned wisdom of our elders and shared family history, there is much to appreciate and reflect upon in this 90 year old speech.  
For me, these words vividly and affectionately express the joys of a life begun 140 years ago when two innocent yet remarkably mature 17 year olds, Morris Rose and Deborah Bogad, stood before their respected parents in a traditional Jewish marriage ceremony far, far away from our world today...



My Speech Delivered on my Golden Wedding
August 26th, 1923

Mr. Toastmaster, beloved Children, dear Friends!  Deeply moved I stand before you today, my heart filled with gratitude towards God, love and tenderness toward my beloved ones and with the Psalmist, I wish to cry out: this is the day which this Lord hath made, We will be glad and rejoice here on.  Would, I have the power of words to express all that I feel, but, oh! How could I?  Like a wanderer who climbed a high mountain and looking back from the summit upon the ways he has gone, marvels the fair fields stretched before him, so am I standing before you to day, look upon 50 years of married life, life made beautiful by my faithful and dear companion, and with our sages I do confess: a Virtuous wife is the Crown of her husband, greater than pearls Is her worth!

Fifty years!  It is quickly said, but takes a long time to live them!  And yet, once passed by, they seem no more than a day to live them.  As it was yesterday, I vividly see myself again…  a boy of sixteen years of age.  How different from that boy, this American boy of the same age is as I know him today.  The American boy is still a mere child, school and school life fills his mind, and if he has any worries at all is perhaps about that proper moment when he shall change his knickers to the first long pants, whether the Giants will win or the Yankees. To me at sixteen there came quite other ideas, quite other aspirations.  I fervently wanted to get married, I even remember I composed a special prayer imploring the help of God to find a faithful and good wife and whenever a prayer was heard it was certainly that prayer of mine.  The Talmud says if you can influence your son give him a wife and sages knew the best thing for a young man were the duties and responsibilities of married life.  These duties strengthen his character and give him ambition and give his whole life as it were an anchor and distinct aim.  Just so it was with me.  When I was seventeen I was engaged, and the bride I had chosen, or more correctly speaking, the bride which was given to me, was no other than the golden bride you see here at my side.  We had by no means what we call a love afair (sic), it was a Shadchan[1] or marriage broker who brought us together, but I can frankly say that we never regretted it.  Did we Dear?  Instead of a love afair (sic), we had a life afair (sic) and believe me a life afair (sic) is the real thing, the only one worthwhile. 

After my engagement I was invited to the house of my bride, and for fully three weeks I lived there as a guest.  Imagine a modern boy staying 3 weeks in the house of his fiancée.  How many potting (?) parties, how many secret and open kisses, dances and other going-ons there would be.  We, I believe, we never touched each other’s hand.  We were so shy, so young, so timid, and when we were permitted to take a walk together, her parents sent their little boy of 8 years to watch us.  Yes, my friends, time changes and we, we change with them.

            We were both but 17 ½ years and as a matter of fact my bride was 6 weeks older than I was when we married and meshpokah (Yiddish) to the modern boy, it did not make any difference to me.  I was happy to become her husband and this happiness has lasted, Heaven thanks through out fifty years!

            Staying here at the festive table, surrounded by our beloved children and dear friends, quite naturally the wedding table of 50 years ago arises before my mental eyes, then I had to deliver a real old-fashioned Droshe (Yiddish), a Talmudic discourse sophistical.  It was always expected of the groom, who had to show on this occasion that he was a Talmudic scholar, and for this he was rewarded by the wedding guest right on the spot with so-called Droshe Gershank.[2]  My Droshe Gershank consisted of 253 rubles.   Though this sum may not be over much today but at that time it represented quite a tidy sum for the ruble then had an entirely different value.  There were some of the guests who tore a ruble into 2 halfs, and while either of those two halfs were presented separately the Badchan[3] or jester would call out a friend of the bride Mr. so and so presents a ruble Madom Ledroshe (?)!   The russian would surely call this Shzid  Maohenik (?)!  but tonight I will not get any Droshe Gershank ,consequently I will spare you the learned Talmudic discourse all I want to do is to express in a few plain, simple American words, my deep gratitude and heart felt appreciation for being permitted to live up to this day and together with my family celebrate this happy occasion.

            I would surely love to tell you much of the by gone 50 years, but looking backwards I feel, important and full our life has been to us, after all, is nothing but the everage (sic) life everage (sic) people with Koheleth[4] I may say the sun arose and the sun went down, one day followed another, and that was about all.  As years passed by, our married life grew into even greater happiness and contenment (sic) as we learned more and more to love each other truely (sic) and sincerely. 

            True, we have had our little quarrels, our little controversies, but they did not last long and the reconciliation that followed afterward was so sweet so delightfull (sic) of delicious compensations that I would advise any young couple to have now and then a like-tiff in order to taste the sweetness of the making up, Dos uberbesen (?).  Dos uberbesen is the most wonderfull (sic) thing in married life!

            As our material life is concerned, we had like most of the people our ups and downs, perhaps more downs than ups, but we were satisfied with whatever we had.  We found always our greatest happiness in our children, whom, after all we managed to give a good education and who have repaid us with true love and filial affection.

            I sincerely thank our dear guests who have assembled here for their good wishes and their great pleasure they give us with their presence.  Furthermore I would like to thank my friend D. Tarlow for his kindness to act as Toastmaster and who fulfilled his task to perfection.

            And at last but not least I thank admirably my beloved children for their wonderfull (sic) and thoughtful gift in entering our names in the Golden book of the Jewish National Fund.  Mrs. Rose never fails to put a few coins in the National Fund before lighting the candles every Friday night.

            One more word

            I wish to tell you, we are celebrating to night not just our golden wedding but another happy anniversary.  It is twenty years today my beloved daughter[5] has been married to Mr. Finkelstein and as they are both ardent Zionists I take this opportunity of presenting them as a token of parent love with a Dunem Lund (?) in that fertile valley in Eretz Israel in Palestine.  May they be as happy as we wish them to be and may they celebrate their Golden wedding in some Jewish hotel in that beautifull (sic) city of Tel Aviv, the Atlantic City of Eretz Israel.

            The Talmud says it is the duty to know the Woman well before one marries her.  I am afraid that I failed to fulfill my duty 50 years ago, and I do it now, binding myself in a golden wedding ceremony to the one woman I know best in God’s world her years of lore and devotion will never be forgotten.  Happy is the man whose lot and position has been cast with a wife like her, and with our sages I confess the truth of the sacred proverb: House and wealth you inherit from your parents, but a good wife is the gift of God!

[1] Shadchan ‫ is a Hebrew word for matchmaker and refers to people who carry out Shidduchim as a profession within the Orthodox community. Shadchan can also refer to anyone who introduces two single Jews with the hope they will form a couple. A matchmaker is familiar with both sides and in a position to introduce the interested parties.
[2] Yiddish: wedding gift, literally speech gift

[3] A badchen or badkhn (a Hebrew word meaning jester Yiddishized as badchen) is a Jewish comedian with scholarly overtones who entertained guests at weddings among the Ashkenazim of Eastern Europe. Today they are found in all countries with Chassidic populations. The badchen was a standard part of the wedding, as de rigueur as the officiating rabbi. An elaborate traditional wedding might also involve a letz (lit. a clown or musician) and a marshalik (a master of ceremonies). The badchen provides the energy for a party before and after the ceremony and to make the transition to a more serious tone before the ceremony. To this end his comedy was not slapstick but rather verbal with many intricate Talmudic references and in-jokes.
[4] The Book of Ecclesiastes originally called Qoheleth in Hebrew.

[5] Morris Rose’s daughter Anna and her husband (Finkelsten) whose name was changed later to Fenton by their children.

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