The Golem and the Mock Wedding
Published on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 By Max Sparber
There used to be a thing in the Catskills, now mostly forgotten, like a lot of Catskills things. It was a mock wedding, which Phil Brown writes about in his book "Catskill Culture: A Mountain Rat's Memories of the Great Jewish Resort Area."
He called the mock wedding "curiously common in Catskills resorts, a burlesque form with switched sex roles and rabbis speaking Yiddish gibberish."
"Why was the mock wedding so popular?" he asks. "It enabled people to stage an event that reminded them of Lower East Side Jewish vaudeville houses, without having to possess either music or comic skills, and without having to hire any entertainers. As well, the mock marriage was an ethnic self-criticism of the tradition of arranged marriages; in the new world, without the customary arranged marriage, the very institution of marriage could be mocked."
Brown recalls one wedding in which was man was the bride, the groom was a woman, and the ring was made of raw potato. It's possible to see moments of a mock wedding in the 1982 documentary The Rise and Fall of the Borscht Belt, and the image is as garish as an underground cartoon, including a pipe-smoking hillbilly following the bride and groom with a shotgun.
For those who wish to experience the real thing, however, there will be a Catskills-style mock wedding March 23 in New York City with the band Golem.
This will be the second time they have thrown a mock wedding, but have not done so since 2005, so this is a rare event. I will be in New York that weekend, but stupidly reserved a flight for the following day, so I instead spoke to Annette Ezekiel Kogan, the band's founder, about the event.
"I feel like I'm planning a real wedding," she told me, sounding exhausted. She would not share a lot of the details, except that there would be a groom, a bride, a flower girl, a wedding cake, and a band member would be the rabbi. She also allowed that there would be cross-dressing, and that much of the performance would be the badeken, the ceremony in which the bride is veiled and marched to the huppa.
Afterwards, there will be a dance, the way there are at weddings, even mock ones. This is something Golem has a lot of experience with: It is still possible for bands to make a living on the events circuit in and around New York, playing bar mitzvas, weddings, anniversaries, and the like.
Golem does these sorts of events, which allows the 17-some-odd-year-old band to make music full-time; attendees at the mock wedding will be able to see the sort of mix of Golem playlist and party music that the band provides when working an event.
For those unfamiliar with the band, Golem started out as the result of Kogan's various interests and studies, which included Slavic languages, Yiddish, and Ukrainian dance. "I had no interest in doing original songs," she told me, but, after a while, a vision for the band coalesced -- a multilingual, modern, frequently raucous spin on traditional Jewish and European music. "I imagine of the Holocaust hadn't happened, this is the sort of music that might have happened," Kogan says.
As to the name of the band, Kogan explains that they started performing shortly after a trip to Prague, the home of the mythical Jewish monster. "It just seemed like it was all about golems," she says.
I remain a little surprised that every single klezmer band hasn't called itself Golem. "No, just us," Kogan says. "There is a German Death Metal Band called Golem, but we have very little to do with each other."
"I think they should just give us the name," Kogan says. "For reparations."
For more information about Golem or their March 23 mock wedding, visit their Website.
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