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La Noche de Novia

La Noche de Novia, also referred to as a Berberisca, Soirée du Henné, Noche de Paños or Lilat el Henna, is a traditional Moroccan Jewish ceremony that takes place during the week that precedes a wedding. The bride makes her entrance, magnificently made up and dressed in the Berberisca gown called ‘Traje de paños’, “Vestido de Berberisca” (Spanish), or “Keswa Elkibra” (Great Dress in Arabic). The costume is made of velvet, richly ornate and embroidered in gold thread. The family of the groom and bride, accompanied by close friends, gather to sing and to praise the bride. The tradition is 2,000 years old.

The ceremony has been famously depicted by many artists including Jean Bescancenot, Charles-Emile Vernet-Lecomte, Alfred Dehodencq, Camille Corot, and Fernand Georges Ducatillion. Most notably, the dress was recorded in several paintings and sketches by Eugene Delacroix, the master of the French Romantic school.

My husband’s family was expelled from Spain in 1492. After the expulsion, following the inquisition, the family traveled to Safed, Israel; Thessaloniki, Greece; and Meknes, Morocco. They finally arrived in Fez, Morocco, during the 16th century and in the mid-19th century, they moved to Tangier.

La Noche de Novia Toledano

La Noche de Novia Toledano

I was lucky enough to have a Noche de Novia of my own. The special day was filled with joy, singing and laughter – not to mention alcohol and delicious food. Getting dressed for the reception took over an hour and gave me insight into the preparations such a special day must of taken in antiquity. There are dozens of pieces of the costume, each with a specific meaning, order and purpose – a belt (golel), headpiece (jemar), the jacket, the bodice, the laced sleeves (kmam) and more. Some of the items even have a superstitious and mystical connection to luck, fertility, and love.

La Noche de Novia Toledano

La Noche de Novia Toledano

La Noche de Novia Toledano

My dress came from overseas in Madrid, Spain. It had previously been worn by my husband’s mother and many of his cousins. I felt deeply honored to continue this tradition; especially to follow in the footsteps of many women who I respect. The beautiful ritual originates in the Sephardi Jewish Communities of Northern Morocco and its surroundings; in cities such as Tangiers, Gibraltar and especially Tetuán, which was also called “Yerushalayim Haketana”, the “Little Jerusalem”.

This ceremony is known in most Jewish communities as the “Hina”, a name that symbolizes the three Mitzvot specific to the Jewish woman: Halla, Nida, VeHadlakat HaNerot. Briefly, these actions mean lighting the candles, separating portions of dough for the creation of Challah (bread), and ritual bathing and cleanliness.

La Noche de Novia Toledano

La Noche de Novia Toledano

Aunts, cousins, friends, and other females related to the bride help her to get ready for her presentation. Each detail is just so – every pin, bobby pin and tassle is fussed with. More than anything, this time was for the bride to get to know her new family without her husband-to-be. This was a private time just for women.

La Noche de Novia Toledano

La Noche de Novia Toledano

I adjust the headpiece so that it is just so. The necklaces are from an aunt in Paris, France, and the Moroccan earrings are from a family friend. The bracelet I am wearing is from my husband’s mom. In this way, I wear pieces of important women in the family. The international family, and the continuation of such “seemingly-antiquated” traditions is beautiful.

La Noche de Novia Toledano

The Puntaktel is worn under the Gonbaiz and as a close fitting breastplate made of heavily embroidered velvet. The Hezam is a velvet and silk sash with ornate golden embroidered. It is wrapped around the bride’s waist several times.

La Noche de Novia Toledano

La Noche de Novia Toledano

Truly, a sign of the diaspora, I am happy to carry on traditions of a family who has been moved throughout the world often, whether due to persecution or economic need, and in each place picking up local customs and making them unique.

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Silver Screen Scenes (2)

I remember my first love. It was a summer in the 1960’s. I was on holiday. We met in the Catskills. He was a tough, misunderstood, ne’er-do-well dance instructor with great hair. I was a naive, privileged, daddy’s girl who wanted to take a walk on the wild side. Wait, Wait, Wait, that wasn’t me.  That was Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman (Jennifer Grey) and Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) in Dirty Dancing. I have watched this movie an uncountable and incalculable number of times – case in point – I used to have “CRAZY FOR SWAYZE” sleepover nights with girlfriends.

Keep Calm and Carry a Watermelon (Screencaps Here).

Dirty Dancing is meant to capture a time in American history before families vacationed at Disney World or took International Cruises, before people were heading to the Bahamas or Cancun, families wholesomely vacationed in New York’s Catskill Mountains. From the 1920’s until the 1960’s, families often traveled to now mostly defunct summer camps – colloquially termed “Jewish Alps” or the “Borscht Belt”. The movie is scripted to take place during the decline of these camps and the onslaught of commercial airline travel. Well-known resorts of the area included Brickman’s, Brown’s, The Concord, Friar Tuck Inn, Gibber’s, Gilbert’s, Grossinger’s, Granit, the Heiden Hotel, Irvington, Kutsher’s Hotel and Country Club, the Nevele, The Laurels Hotel and Country Club, and The Pines Resort.

c. 1940s postcard of the Pine Tree Villa, a primarily Jewish resort at Kiamesha Lake, New York in the Borscht Belt of the Catskill Mountains!  Finely detailed image, showing layout of many of the resort’s buildings, including the casino and tennis courts to the left.  Was run by Greenberg & Son. The unused postcard can be purchased HERE.

GROSSINGER’S: The resort’s huge pool in the 1950s (Here).

The indoor and outdoor pool at GROSSINGER’S, dilapidated and in disrepair as of 2008 (Here).

My mom remembers a time when she used to visit these summer camps! She told me that such comedic legends at Woody Allen, Don Rickles, Rodney Dangerfield, Carl Reiner, George Burns, Mel Brooks, Fanny Brice, Bea Arthur and Joan Rivers got their start at these hotel resorts. Amazing actresses and entertainers such as Carole King, Shari Lewis, Mel Torme, Barbara Streisand, and Joel Grey also performed yearly at the establishments. These establishments were also some of the only places wherein African American performers were allowed to frequent (before Civil Rights) and was referred to as “The Chitlin Circuit”. The Supremes, Duke Ellington, The Four Tops, Etta James, Cab Calloway, and Smokey Robinson are some of the famous acts who frequented east coast resort towns. Clearly the performance halls and boarding houses nestled in the counties of Upstate New York have had an everlasting effect on the landscape of entertainment. However, has anyone yearned for the decor of this time period?