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All Night Through

Michal Eisikowitz

Armed with coffee and an afternoon nap, some people are still burning the midnight oil long after Shavuos. If you can’t stay up all night, you should not be a badchan, work in the E.R., be a bakery mashgiach, or control overseas flights. But for those who defy their nocturnal rhythms, life is still light on the dark side.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

night in brooklynFunny Hours

Name: Velvel Feldman

Occupation: Badchan

Location: Monsey


His audiences may find themselves drowning in laughter, but for Velvel Feldman, being a badchan is serious business.

“I have to bring simchah, but I also have to inspire people, move them,” Velvel says. “If a father stands up to dance with the kallah with red, tear-stained eyes, thanking Hashem for this moment and whispering a bakashah al ha’asid, then I know I did a good job.”

A Monsey native who readily admits that English is not his first language, the young, unpretentious chassid and father of three never intended to be a badchan. A familial predisposition and innate talent for the uniquely Jewish art, however, seem to have determined otherwise.

Velvel’s own father, a well-known talmid chacham, has a distinct knack for badchanus, and served informally as badchan at his own children’s weddings — perhaps implanting a dormant seed of inspiration.

Then, when Velvel’s chavrusa of over five years got married in a badchan-less London affair, Velvel — on a whim — requested the honor of calling up the chassan and kallah at the mitzvah tantz, and inadvertently jump-started a flourishing career.

Today, Velvel’s typical week finds him at three to five affairs, mostly weddings or sheva brachos (where he performs comedy routines). His job begins at 10:30 p.m., when he hits the road, and ends at around 3 in the morning.

“At the beginning, it was hard leaving the house just when I wanted to go to bed,” Velvel admits. “But by now, I’m used to it. Even on ‘off nights’ I can’t fall asleep before 2 a.m.”

For the uninitiated, badchanim are masters of prose and song who star primarily during the treasured mitzvah tantz, an intense, centuries-old custom of both joy and solemnity where male relatives are invited to dance (read: hold a napkin or gartel and sway) with the sometimes bedecked and always prayerful kallah.

After a short mazel tov intro, the badchan calls up the zeidehs — both in This World and the Next — with a particularly stirring segment, followed by the uncles, the kallah’s brothers, the mechutanim, and, lastly, the chassan.

To make everyone happy, Velvel must do his time-consuming research well: confirm the older generation’s mortal status, verify that there are no major family feuds (and tweak the presentation accordingly if there are), and put together a basic background on each potential gartel-bearer.

Once, following a miscommunication of sorts, Velvel made his biggest faux pas ever. “I started calling down the chashuve bubbe a”h from the himmel, and the next thing I know, there’s an elderly woman standing, waving her hands wildly, shouting ‘I’m here! I’m here!’”

Without missing a beat, a quick-thinking Velvel salvaged the situation: “I immediately changed my lines to something like ‘and the bubbe, zol zein gezint ihn shtark, will bring down the hashpu’as from the himmel….’ ”


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