We were being allowed to sit down in the main office with about a dozen Orthodox men standing around. They had tentatively accepted me as a Jew after my father’s letter from some of his Orthodox rabbi friends. The oldest man was behind a desk with a paper form in front of him and an elegant Parker pen.
He would ask a question in Yiddish and several men would try to translate. In German or French I could try to understand and reply. We finally got to a place on the form which had a currency symbol. I assumed the amount he wanted was 2 pruta (a few pennies) the biblical bride price based on the ring in a cow’s nose. He and everyone around was offended. Telling my future wife ‘no, no no!’ But he wrote it down.
So I said ‘200’. The room was quiet. That was better but not good. I raised to ‘2,000’ and there was a murmur of consent in the room. Still thinking it was a bride price, I took the old man’s Parker pen and put another zero on the number. “20,000’. The room broke out in celebration. All the men were up and dancing. Someone brought in cake. We danced for half an hour.
I later learned that what was being filled out was the Ketubah, the divorce paper that would later be written by a scribe in beautiful Hebrew with illustrations. The money was the divorce settlement. My 20,000 was the highest anyone had ever seen.
After things settled down, I was led, alone, into an adjacent room.