Esther and Steeve under canopies car­ried by bear­ers at the hen­na party

All pho­tos cour­tesy of the publisher

We embarked on our third cul­tur­al project — Jew­ish wed­dings from the bride’s point of view. Do Jew­ish wed­dings vary in diverse inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ties? Are par­tic­u­lar fea­tures always present? As was the case in our pre­vi­ous projects, we found enor­mous vari­a­tion in every aspect of the Jew­ish mar­riage rit­u­al, from a brief cer­e­mo­ny in a home or rabbi’s study to week­long rit­u­als and elab­o­rate shindigs. 

In the case of our sto­ries about wed­dings, we have arranged our mate­r­i­al in two ways: by stages of the wed­ding process and by spe­cial top­ics. The stage” struc­ture we devel­oped derived from what the women (or their sur­ro­gates, includ­ing their moth­ers and daugh­ters) told us about the process of Jew­ish mar­riages. Our book — and many of the sto­ries we col­lect­ed — starts with how Jew­ish brides met their part­ners. Next, we high­light courtship and engage­ment or betrothal. Sto­ries that con­cern brides’ con­ver­sion to Judaism before mar­riage come next. Sub­se­quent chap­ters deal with invi­ta­tions to the wed­ding cer­e­mo­ny, how the bride or oth­ers select­ed the venue for the wed­ding, spe­cial activ­i­ties that occurred before the cer­e­mo­ny, and the ketubah (wed­ding con­tract). The cer­e­mo­ny itself played a large role in most of the sto­ries, but we chose some of the most fas­ci­nat­ing exam­ples for that chap­ter. Our final chap­ter with­in the stages” frame­work deals with cus­toms that took place short­ly after the wedding. 

As you will see, these tes­ti­monies are not devot­ed exclu­sive­ly to one stage of the jour­ney to the bimah and beyond; we could have placed many sto­ries in mul­ti­ple chap­ters. Our deci­sions were based on ele­ments that were unique, inter­est­ing, or par­tic­u­lar­ly rel­e­vant to that story. 

Because our Jew­ish brides’ sto­ries come from all over the world and from pre­vi­ous eras, we decid­ed to cre­ate sep­a­rate chap­ters for spe­cial top­ics, par­tic­u­lar­ly cir­cum­stances that var­ied sig­nif­i­cant­ly from the norm, such as arranged mar­riages and Jew­ish wed­dings that occurred dur­ing or short­ly after the Holo­caust. We also decid­ed to cre­ate a sep­a­rate chap­ter for sto­ries of wed­dings in Israel because Israeli wed­dings are cur­rent­ly the sub­ject of intense and even acri­mo­nious debate and pol­i­cy­mak­ing. Because Jew­ish inter­mar­riage is per­va­sive around the world, except for in Israel, and steadi­ly increas­ing, we have two chap­ters on the top­ic that focus on prenup­tial con­ver­sion and inter­mar­riage, respectively. 

It is our hope that read­ers of this book will enjoy learn­ing about how Jews mar­ry — and used to mar­ry — around the world and may get some ideas about how they want to cel­e­brate their own mar­riage. Read­ers may not be aware of the exis­tence of all of these Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties. Sim­ply learn­ing about them is eye open­ing. Focus­ing on mar­riage shows us that Jew­ish life is always in flux over time and space. Wed­dings now reflect the tastes and inter­ests of the cou­ple as much as they do Jew­ish law and customs. 

Bar­bara solicit­ed sto­ries from women around the globe who came from diverse Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties, some well known and oth­ers unfa­mil­iar to main­stream Jews, and gave them few instruc­tions: include the place and date of the wed­ding, attach a pho­to­graph, and lim­it the sto­ry to about one thou­sand words. (She inter­viewed in per­son or remote­ly a few women who declined to write their sto­ries but want­ed to have them includ­ed.) When we received the sto­ries, she edit­ed them as light­ly as pos­si­ble and sent them back to the authors for approval. Then the two of us sat down to ana­lyze and orga­nize what had been sent to us. 

As it turned out, women did not lim­it their sto­ries to the wed­ding cer­e­monies but rather placed their mar­riages with­in the con­text of a larg­er nar­ra­tive of their lives. Most includ­ed how they met their part­ner and how their lives have evolved since they mar­ried. We also dis­cov­ered that many women want­ed to write the sto­ries that had come down to them of their mother’s or grandmother’s wed­ding — some in amaz­ing detail. When they did not find their own wed­ding par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing, they wrote about some­one else’s — as long as a Jew was involved — such as a cousin’s or a congregant’s. Peo­ple want­ed to write a sto­ry that had an inter­est­ing twist. Some wrote about why they reject­ed old cus­toms with which they no longer iden­ti­fied, and oth­ers wrote about why they chose to per­pet­u­ate these cus­toms, some of which had been adopt­ed through the ages from their non-Jew­ish neigh­bors. All in all, the sto­ries are reflec­tions of the way peo­ple under­stand Jew­ish wed­dings, with their joys, strains, and vari­a­tions. This is not a com­plete com­pendi­um of wed­ding cus­toms — that would prob­a­bly require an ency­clo­pe­dia. Rather it is a glimpse into the sto­ries that brides tell about one hun­dred Jew­ish wed­dings from eighty-three coun­tries in many his­tor­i­cal eras. In sum­ma­ry, this col­lec­tion rep­re­sents a larg­er project of learn­ing about how Jew­ish life was and is actu­al­ly lived around the world by hear­ing about women’s activ­i­ties and lis­ten­ing to their voices. 


Rachel Jacob­son 

Moroc­can Jew­ish wed­ding events might be the most elab­o­rate in the world. As in oth­er coun­tries, some Mid­dle East­ern Jew­ish wed­ding tra­di­tions are sim­i­lar to those of the sur­round­ing cul­ture — the hen­na par­ty, the prewed­ding trip to the ham­mam, the mul­ti­ple chang­ing of caf­tans dur­ing wed­ding events, the bride’s entrance on a kind of throne, and the scrump­tious items of cui­sine. The bless­ing of the guests by the bride before the wed­ding cer­e­mo­ny is a tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish cus­tom, while the priest­ly bless­ing of the guests that Rachel men­tions is a less com­mon ele­ment. Rachel, who has not for­got­ten her Moroc­can roots, teach­es Hebrew and Jew­ish stud­ies in the Boston area, where she has lived for more than forty years. 

My great-nephew Steeve mar­ried his wife, Esther, in 2007 in Casablan­ca. Steeve’s grand­moth­er, Marie, is my old­est sis­ter. She is the only one of our twelve broth­ers and sis­ters who stayed in Moroc­co. The whole fam­i­ly left for Israel in 1948, before I was born. Marie was sev­en­teen and already married. 

For the most part, the Jews of Moroc­co are well-off finan­cial­ly and have been pro­tect­ed by sev­er­al gen­er­a­tions of rulers. Like his father and grand­fa­ther, the cur­rent king, Moham­mad VI, has sup­port­ed the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty and has worked behind the scenes for Arab-Israeli peace. Although there have been iso­lat­ed instances of vio­lence, anti­semitism is not evi­dent. Like my sis­ter Marie’s fam­i­ly, every­one in the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty fol­lows the same mod­ern Ortho­dox prac­tices. They all keep strict­ly kosher and are shomer Shab­bat (keep­ers of the Sab­bath). They all send their chil­dren to Hebrew day schools, which are known to be the best in the country. 

I arrived from my home in the Unit­ed States a week before the wed­ding, join­ing some of my sib­lings who were able to come from Israel and oth­er parts of the US. I missed the engage­ment par­ty but went to many oth­er tra­di­tion­al cel­e­bra­tions for Steeve, who was twen­ty-sev­en, and his bride Esther, who was twen­ty-one. (Often in Moroc­co, the bride is much younger than the groom.) 

The mikveh was a low-key affair attend­ed by women only — about fif­teen to twen­ty close fam­i­ly mem­bers and friends. After immers­ing, Esther put on a beau­ti­ful, embroi­dered caf­tan with bright cheer­ful col­ors. There was a lot of singing and the com­fort of being togeth­er before the elab­o­rate mar­riage cel­e­bra­tions. Along with many oth­er spe­cial pas­tries, my favorite was served — baby egg­plants can­died in hon­ey and sugar. 

For his part, my great-nephew was the cen­ter of a Shab­bat Hatan (groom’s Shab­bat), which is held in the syn­a­gogue the Shab­bat before the wed­ding, when the groom-to-be is called up the Torah and the fam­i­ly receives congratulations. 

I was there for the ketubah sign­ing four days before the wed­ding, when the groom’s fam­i­ly brought him to the bride’s home, walk­ing through the streets, accom­pa­nied by the loud­est drums and horns I ever heard. There was so much noise! At the bride’s home, they signed the ketubah, along with the rab­bi and two wit­ness­es who tra­di­tion­al­ly are not fam­i­ly mem­bers. Both Esther and Steeve received expen­sive gifts from their future in-laws. 

Next was a huge hen­na par­ty for five hun­dred peo­ple in Mar­rakesh, two hours away, spon­sored by the groom’s fam­i­ly. The women wore gor­geous caf­tans (I bought one in Moroc­co) and many of them changed gar­ments four or five times dur­ing the course of the event. The bride entered the ball­room on a canopied throne car­ried on poles on the shoul­ders of four men. The groom entered the same way, dressed in a white tar­boosh (tas­seled hat) and a white jal­abiya (long robe). There was a French band and a Moroc­can band, and singers who sang in French, Ara­bic, and Hebrew. As the bride and groom sat under their canopies, they were show­ered with lav­ish gifts, which were shown to all the guests. The bride received bracelets, neck­laces, and ear­rings, which she put on until she was cov­ered in gold and dia­monds. Then a fam­i­ly mem­ber applied hen­na to the palms of all the guests — women and men — who want­ed it. This is a tes­ta­ment that the cou­ple is will­ing to mar­ry, and, as hen­na stains the hand for as long as six months, that they will not be for­got­ten and are blessed. There was non­stop eat­ing and enter­tain­ment in every cor­ner until the ear­ly hours of the morning. 

The day before the wed­ding, twen­ty women went to the ham­mam, the steam bath. We went into a huge room filled with steam and laid down on wood­en beds. For forty-five min­utes, some­one used a spe­cial brush to peel the dead cells from my skin. It’s amaz­ing to see what comes off! Then creams are applied, and you feel that you have baby skin. 

On the day of the wed­ding cer­e­mo­ny, the bride tra­di­tion­al­ly bless­es every per­son who needs help, lay­ing her hand on the person’s head. On that day she is clos­est to G‑d and is pure. There were three hun­dred peo­ple in the Great Syn­a­gogue of Casablan­ca, the women and men sit­ting sep­a­rate­ly. Fam­i­ly mem­bers and atten­dants came down the aisle ahead of the bride, who was veiled and wear­ing a sim­ple white bridal gown with­out jew­el­ry, which was her choice. Rab­bi Lau, the Chief Rab­bi of Tel Aviv, offi­ci­at­ed, read­ing the ketubah. Under the chup­pah, the bride cir­cled the groom sev­en times, and mem­bers of the fam­i­ly read the she­va bra­chot. At the end, the bride came close to the ark for the birkat kohan­im, the priest­ly bless­ing. Women can­not look and have to shield their eyes. Then off to a very fan­cy recep­tion at the Hyatt Hotel for even more guests, where there was music, danc­ing, kosher Moroc­can food, and incred­i­ble desserts. 

For a week after the wed­ding, peo­ple host­ed the fam­i­ly for she­va bra­chot (sev­en bene­dic­tions, like those recit­ed under the chup­pah). Every night we went some­where else, includ­ing the Chabad house. When I final­ly returned home, I was com­plete­ly exhausted! 

She­va Bra­chot cer­e­mo­ny in the Sala Consistorial


Josette Capriles Goldish 

The first Jews, orig­i­nal­ly from the Iber­ian Penin­su­la, arrived in Curaçao in the 1600s from the Nether­lands. They estab­lished his­toric Con­gre­ga­tion Mikvé Israel-Emanuel, the old­est syn­a­gogue in con­tin­u­ous use in the Amer­i­c­as, where Josette and her hus­band were wed. The sand floor, one of four in the Caribbean, is well known to thou­sands of tourists who vis­it the island each year, reminders of the desert wan­der­ings of bib­li­cal Jews and homage to Jews of the Inqui­si­tion who used sand to muf­fle the sound of their prayers. If you thought that Jew­ish grooms, both Ashke­naz­ic and Sephardic, uni­ver­sal­ly step on a glass at the end of the wed­ding cer­e­mo­ny, think again. Josette’s sto­ry doc­u­ments unusu­al local cus­toms regard­ing wed­ding glass-break­ing as well as invit­ing guests. 

The strains of Baruch Ha’ba” float down to the court­yard of the his­toric Mikvé Israel-Emanuel syn­a­gogue where I am wait­ing with my father to walk into the main sanc­tu­ary on the evening of my wed­ding. These first intro­duc­to­ry notes com­ing from the organ are my cue. Remem­ber to walk slow­ly, remem­ber to smile, and for heaven’s sake, don’t trip when you walk in those high, high heels on the sand that cov­ers the floor of the syn­a­gogue. Those are my main thoughts as my father pats my hand sig­nal­ing that it is time to go. Wel­come in the name of G‑d,” sings the choir, and arm in arm we head inside where hun­dreds have gath­ered to watch the ceremony. 

But then, as I enter and see all those famil­iar and beloved faces of fam­i­ly and friends, all the instruc­tions that I have been giv­en are for­got­ten. I devi­ate from my route to hug my Aunt Sarah whom we call Chacha, blind since years before I was born. Her hus­band has found her a spot right near the front at the door­way of the syn­a­gogue, and I am so hap­py to see her there, know­ing how dif­fi­cult big crowds are for her. As I con­tin­ue and approach the Holy Ark where four young boys are hold­ing up the chup­pah, the choir gives way to the sopra­no soloist, my cousin Ethel, and all of a sud­den, the beau­ty of her voice and the solem­ni­ty of the moment hit me. 

My hus­band is stand­ing under the chup­pah wait­ing for me with our par­ents, two rab­bis, and a can­tor. He is legal­ly already my hus­band because before dri­ving to the syn­a­gogue, we stopped at the mar­riage reg­istry in the Pachi de Sola build­ing for our civ­il cer­e­mo­ny, which is sep­a­rate from the reli­gious one that is about to commence. 

Although to the onlook­ers every­thing may seem to be as it is always done, he and I know how much it took to agree on all the lit­tle things that go into plan­ning a wed­ding; par­tic­u­lar­ly this wed­ding between an Ortho­dox Ashke­nazi man and a fair­ly sec­u­lar Sephardic woman. Yes — to him walk­ing in the pro­ces­sion with both his par­ents. No — to me walk­ing with both of mine instead of with only my father. My moth­er will be escort­ed by her broth­er-in-law instead of walk­ing on the arm of my father-in-law as would have been cus­tom­ary here. No — to me walk­ing around the groom sev­en times. Yes — to a small pre-recep­tion wed­ding din­ner in the Sala Con­sis­to­r­i­al — the social hall — fol­lowed by the she­va bra­chot (sev­en bless­ings) tra­di­tion­al­ly recit­ed after a meal for the bride and groom. And what do you mean the groom has to pay for pol­ish­ing the brass chan­de­liers in the syn­a­gogue? Well, that’s how it is done here in Curaçao. These chan­de­liers with their many can­dles are lit only for Kol Nidre and at wed­dings … if the groom has them cleaned. The chan­de­liers shine, and the can­dles are ablaze. 

Although it all goes smooth­ly, there is a pan­icky moment when the rab­bi turns to the best man and says, The ring?” The best man looks around and answers, Chicu has it.” Chicu is my cousin’s two-year-old son who, at the begin­ning of the cer­e­mo­ny, was hold­ing a pil­low onto which the wed­ding ring had been attached by a few loose­ly sewn stitch­es. He is nowhere to be found and is final­ly dis­cov­ered behind one of the large pil­lars of the syn­a­gogue, play­ing in the sand and sit­ting on the pil­low with the ring. We can continue! 

Fol­low­ing a cus­tom from the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, invi­ta­tions to Curaçao wed­dings in the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty were nev­er mailed or hand-deliv­ered through the 1960s. As was cus­tom­ary, ours too were print­ed in the news­pa­pers, and every­body who knew us or our par­ents showed up for the recep­tion. We have pic­tures of many of the eight hun­dred rel­a­tives and friends who came to our recep­tion in a pri­vate club that could accom­mo­date the large crowd, but none of the pro­ces­sion into the syn­a­gogue, none of us under the chup­pah, and none of Chicu sit­ting in the sand with my wed­ding ring. The pho­tog­ra­ph­er, a dear friend of my father’s, had a lit­tle too much cham­pagne and whiskey at the recep­tion, and end­ed up los­ing the rolls of film he took dur­ing the reli­gious ceremony. 

Maybe we can claim one of the dents in the sil­ver plat­ter as proof that our wed­ding actu­al­ly took place in this his­toric syn­a­gogue. My hus­band thought he was going to be step­ping on a wrapped-up glass item to recall the destruc­tion of Jerusalem. Not here! In Curaçao’s Sephardic com­mu­ni­ty, the groom throws a fine crys­tal glass with a strong hand onto the plat­ter, and the peo­ple stand­ing in front of the Holy Ark must turn away a bit so that the shat­tered crys­tal does not harm them. The con­gre­gants accom­pa­ny this act by shout­ing Bes­i­man tov!” (may this mar­riage be under a good sign), and even many of our non-Jew­ish guests will repeat that saying. 

It is only through sto­ries like this that we can con­firm that we were mar­ried in the syn­a­gogue — our snoa — where my ances­tors wor­shiped since it was built in 1732. And, of course, we have sev­er­al mar­riage cer­tifi­cates: the civ­il one that con­firms that we were legal­ly wed, an Ortho­dox ketubah brought from Cleve­land to make sure that every­thing was super kosher, and the Mikvé Israel – Emanuel ketubah that con­firms that, indeed, we stood there under the chup­pah so many years ago. 

Much give and take and more than fifty years lat­er, we are get­ting old togeth­er. Occa­sion­al­ly, we like to look at the pic­tures tak­en on that day in July when we were mar­ried. There are many pho­tographs that were tak­en at home, at the civ­il cer­e­mo­ny, and at the recep­tion. But as we have not one pic­ture tak­en inside the syn­a­gogue, we must rely on our memories.