Monday, April 12, 2010

The Forlorn Birkon

Packing at the end of a school vacation, be it Yom Kippur-Sukkos, winter, or Pesach is always a scramble at my house. I end up multitasking (or attempting to multitask) a number of different organizational activities as I simultaneous do my best to fit everything into my suitcase(s).

As I was cleaning up my room (a bit) on Sunday, I came across a few bentschers that I recently collected at friends' weddings and brought back home in an effort to create more desk space in my dorm room. I have a growing pile of these bentschers sitting on a bookshelf that are currently unused (we have more than enough bentschers in the family collection as it is). My intention is to get a head start on my own future home’s collection of bentschers – I figure, why should I wait until I’m already married to begin collecting bentschers (starting with a batch from my own wedding, as many people do)? The fact that a LOT of my friends are already getting married while I’m still dating only serves to further motivate my little hobby.

Every now and then I browse through my collection as I keep track of, and continually add to, this amalgamation of differently styled bentschers. This time, as I flipped through a handful of bentschers, fondly recalling memories of happy celebrations, I found one bentscher that stood out from the others. It was a bentscher from a wedding I went to over a year ago… and the couple recently divorced.

Then the thought hit me: what do I do with this bentscher?

Sure, I could say that odds are neither my friend nor his ex-wife will ever see the bentscher (more likely the ex-wife than my friend) when I get married and have guests over. This is especially true if I don’t ever live a part of my married life in Washington Heights or in the tri-state area, where both of them are from and will probably settle down (may each find their proper spouse soon).

There is also the issue of possible secondary offense generated by guests who know either person, and may even have been in attendance at the wedding as I was. This affects a significantly larger group of people, given that Jewish Geography is what it is. Admittedly, the moment of discovery would be awkward, once my guest takes a look at the names and realizes what occasion the bentscher is from, but the impact of the situation would be far less significant. The guest may also choose not to say anything, mistakenly think the bentscher is from one of their second weddings (having not kept in touch to really know it’s from the first), or fail to observe the names on the bentscher at all.

Even if odds favor that neither my friend, his ex-wife, nor anyone who (at that time) currently knows them well will recognize the bentscher and say anything, the very idea of owning it and keeping it in “circulation” at my Shabbos table makes me uneasy. Not that that the poor little booklet is cursed or something. Rather, this predicament is similar to what I did with the pictures on my computer from that wedding after I found out that they got divorced. I deleted all the photographs that depicted either my friend or his ex-wife (and certainly any that showed them together). The reason why I did this was because they no longer generated pleasant memories, or made me think about the simcha of the wedding that has since been tarnished/replaced by the sadness I feel on behalf of my friend’s misfortune (his ex-wife too, since neither should have had to suffer such a terrible pain).

Nor are those old pictures historically relevant. What purpose do I have in preserving a record of an ill-fated union? It’s almost like (in a more secular sense, though again, indirectly) someone decided to save pictures he had taken with his ex-girlfriend. Granted, they’re not pictures of me and an ex, but I still feel pained on behalf of my friend and his ex-wife.

So what DO I do with this bentscher?

I could keep the bentscher and not do anything at all, which I think I’ve demonstrated doesn’t really solve the problem.

I could conceal/deface the writing on the front – though I’d probably go with using a mailing label and either leave it blank or create a different occasion to advertise instead of taking a Sharpie to it. At some point, I know a guest would probably ask what the deal was with this particular bentscher, foiling my attempt at concealment.

I almost feel as though I should get rid of it entirely… maybe have it buried with sheimos or something so I don’t have to deal with it anymore. I wonder what my friend and his ex-wife (and their respective families) did with their large share of the mementos. I suspect there is some formal process that a printer/distributer could do to re-cover misprinted/no longer needed (such as from a broken engagement) bentschers, since most mass-produced-simcha-related bentschers often have a generic white cover that is then printed over.

Although I am aware of other recent weddings among acquaintances that have ended in divorce, this is the first, and Im Yirtzeh HaShem, last, bentscher of this sort that I will own. I don’t want to confront this dilemma ever again…

Any ideas?

P.S. Yes, I realize that I only used the Hebrew term "birkon" in the title. I really use "bentscher" while speaking, but "birkon" sounded better for the title...

P.P.S. I am still hard at work on the second (and last) part of the “Exodus” story. I hit a snag running into the last few days of Yom Tov, finishing up school work, temporary loss of inspiration, structural conflict, and general end-of-vacation zaniness. I should finish it in the somewhat near future... so look forward to that post soon. And if you haven't read it yet, please do (and comment!), despite it's no longer inyanei d'yoma nature.


  1. As to the real issue: I vote for sheimos. Why not? Is there any logical argument against that? It's not like the world has a bentcher shortage...

    And, a side point: why do you bother collecting bentchers now? The way I see it, I will IY"H get married and have some bentchers from my own wedding, and if I really need some more, at some point, I can grab at any one of the many weddings I have the good fortune of attending. Like I said, bentcher-aquiring opportunities abound. Does it matter that much to have the bentchers of the friends getting married now instead of the bentchers of the friends getting married later?

  2. Give it to a shul somewhere out of town. They could always use them. Not many people will know the two, and those who do will understand why a shul has it.

    Oh, and I still have a collection of benchers from my class bar mitzvahs.

  3. A shul (like Jughead said above) is a good idea - or a gemach, is what I would have suggested. I know in Brooklyn (and other places, I'm sure) they have gemachs for everything, including bentschers.

    Really insightful post - I also had to "delete memories" from a close family member who broke an engagement, and completely understand how uncomfortable and hard it is.

  4. This is a dilemma that I've (unfortunately) had to deal with, and the truth is, the best option is probably to give them away where they will do some good...
    It's funny, because a bentcher is such an innocuous thing, and shouldn't really dredge up memories the way it does. But as someone who actively peruses bentcher covers at every Shabbos meal, I know that that's all it takes to be instantly transported to the simcha.
    Which is why, when memories of the simcha lose their, well, happiness, it's time for the bentchers to go...

  5. It's never too soon to start collecting bentchers.

    In terms of what to do with the bentcher, I was discussing this issue recently, and I think the best solution is putting a label over it to cover up the names. It is still a perfectly good bentcher, I don't see a reason to put it in sheimos. If it looks funny, then take the cover off entirely and put on a new cover.

    One other point: Just because they got divorced, that doesn't mean that their wedding wasn't a time of joy/a good memory. Yes, it has a sad ending, but when the bentchers were made and the pictures were taken, it was a happy time. If the couple were to see the bentchers, then it would cause them pain, and that would be a good reason to make sure they don't see the bentchers. But the bentcher still serves as a way to remember happy times.

  6. Frum Jew in YU - it has nothing to do with acquiring enough bentschers for use, I just want to have mementos from friend's weddings, like most people do. Why should I wait to start when I'll miss out on bentschers from close friends who are already married?

    Jughead's Hat - The shul idea is a good one, except the benstcher is back home where the shul has a standard set of bentschers, so I'd have to bring it back to NY and find somewhere to take it to. It's still a good idea that doesn't involve having it buried.

    Sterngrad - as I mentioned, I'd still feel funny having it, since *I* would always know...

    So the two most suggested ideas are sheimos and shul/gemach - and I think donating the bentscher seems to be the better idea, as Sterngrad said - it is still perfectly usable, so I think someone else should benefit from it. I'll have to make a mental note to bring it back next time I'm home for vacation...

  7. It's really hard to say. Is it a halachically feasible reason to bury a bentscher just because nobody wants to look at it? If the outside is the problem then that is the part to get rid of.

    On the other is uncomfortable to have a bentscher from a marriage that ended in divorce. I know in my house, we still have some bentschers from weddings that ended in divorce. Because they are from my parent's friends, the bentschers are 15-20 old and bH the people remarried and started families long ago. It's a lot tougher when you were close with one/both of the people. Especially family members. I'd either keep them and give them a new cover or give them away, but still put on a new cover. You never know who will come across those bentschers, even in a gemach.

  8. If you decide to donate the bentcher, definitely conceal the name or remove it. My mother used to give away old clothing with my name written on the labels. Then I met a girl who who said her sister was wearing my clothing- you never know where things can turn up and who might see it.

    If anyone thinks it's strange to collect bentchers from weddings- I have a whole drawer filled with them, waiting to be used someday. So call me crazy.

  9. I just want to have mementos from friend's weddings, like most people do. Why should I wait to start when I'll miss out on bentschers from close friends who are already married?

    We're just different, then. I don't care too much about physical mementos - I just carry the memories. I'm not even one of those people who takes a lot of pictures.

    Is it a halachically feasible reason to bury a bentscher just because nobody wants to look at it?

    I think so. You don't need a reason for sheimos - the whole point of sheimos is that it's a way to dispose of things that still have kedusha.

  10. I agree with coralcap and NYC Girl, donating it with the identifying writing concealed/removed sounds best.

    FrumJewinYU - While putting it in sheimos initially sounded like a good idea, I've generally seen that only things that are worn out not wanted/no longer useful. In the case of a page of Tanach I photocopied for a class and no longer want to keep, I can understand why putting it in sheimos is the right way to go, even if someone else may eventually need those same psukim photocopied for some reason. A bentscher would be inherently different for its near-daily (or at least weekly on Shabbos) utility value.

  11. If you needed a svara, fine, I hear it. But I've never heard of any such halacha.

    Happens to be that the whole donation idea didn't occur to me - sounds like a better plan than sheimos.

  12. FrumJewInYU - I didn't write that explantion as any sort of psak halacha, or even quoting one. I haven't really learned the halachos of sheimos "inside" - I was just bringing a semi-plausible rational based on what I have seen in numerous instances for a number of years. So yes, a sevara of sorts.

  13. I didn't say you were trying to say that's the halacha; I was just clarifying what was what. We're on the same page here.

  14. My apologies if that sounded hostile, I'm glad to know we agree :)

    I think the best solution, which occurred to me after Ma'ariv tonight would be to use a Sharpie to cover the actual text, and print out a nice "donated l'zecher nishmas" or l'kavod some simcha on a mailing label, stick that over the covered text, and THEN donate it somewhere - just to cover all my bases.

    The new label would probably discourage anyone from peeling it off to see what was underneath, and anyone using the bentscher would probably assume the donation was produced in a small-run, homemade system, hence the semi-tacky stuck on mailing label instead of real, professional printing.

    Thanks for all the ideas, everyone!

  15. I would donate the bentchers to a shul. One far away from both halves of the now-divorced couple.

    Then send me a link to the Frumster or Jdate profile of the newly divorced woman in question.

    To quote the Blues Brothers, I'm "...on a mission from G-d." My mother will thank you.

  16. Wow this is sad. My best friend recently broke off her engagement and we also had to deal with any mementos that were floating around. You could just remove the cover (bentchers with enough use end up like that sometimes) but your idea to donate l'zecher nishmas is pretty nice.

    Lol to the previous commenter.

  17. And about your 'PS', when I initially saw your title in my Google Reader I thought the post was about how no one calls bentchers 'Birkon' anymore! Your topic ended up being far more touching...

  18. We have one like that -- I took off and threw away the cover but kept the bencher because it was Nusach Ari, and most of our benchers aren't -- I like to give guests their own Nusach to bench from if possible. We have several nushachim, although the Yeminite bencher doesn't really get much use...


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