Saturday, July 2, 2011

What I learned at the Israel Museum about colors of clothing at weddings and “gentrification” of our Jewish community

I know, it’s a really strange title, but totally appropriate for one of the very compelling lessons I learned during the day long field trip I took myself on this past Wednesday to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. It was really quite a wonderful day. I was able to stop at exhibits as long as I want, read the explanations as carefully as I wished and really take it all in – I went alone just so I could do this. By 5:15 p.m. when I was ushered out of the museum with the last visitors for the day, I was mentally exhausted – I think my brain cells were sleeping.

I loved going through the archeology and ancient cultures sections and learning about tens of thousands of years ago, the beginning of civilization as we know it, the earliest life of man, of Jews, of Egyptians, and others. I was, as always, particularly enthralled by the glass and the beautiful workmanship of reclaimed bowls, columns, mortars and pestles and such.

After three and a half hours in this exhibit I went into the next one, the one about Jewish life through the ages. There was so much to see and remember (from what I know and what I recall from being here before and elsewhere as well) about customs, celebrations and the observances that have marked our people for so very long.

Now we come to the part that is the centerpiece of this post. THE WEDDING DRESSES! Wow!! So much color, so many different styles, headdresses, jeweled broaches that covered from the neck to the waist of the bride, beautiful materials and it was all just a magnificent feast for the eyes. Each exquisite costume came with a wonderful explanation of the land of origin and the meaning and symbolism of the various parts of the outfit. These colors and styles dazzled and I just could not pull myself away from them to go on except that the next bridal outfit and its various accessories was just as bewitching and inviting to stare at! Then, after about fifteen of these amazing bridal outfits, there was one long lacy white dress and a long explanation of how the Ashkenazic Jews had assimilated the European habit of wearing white as a sign of purity, which is attributed to Christian roots, and how this took over and eventually eclipsed the native bridal wear of the many lands included in the display. I was struck by this, I mean like hit between the eyes! This was about much more than the different colors and styles for me.

It has been an interesting history of color in my life in the Orthodox community part of my life. I have noticed less and less colors worn by women. At weddings, virtually all of the women except for the bride are in black and she of course is in white. There have been many times when I am practically the only one in the room with a splash of color. Now, in shul as well – the accepted colors are black, navy blue, very deep purple (not too bright now!), dark green and white with splashes of pink (still an acceptable girl color)! What is going on here?

I love color and I wear lots of it. I LOVED, I mean was totally taken by the beautiful colors and textures of those bridal outfits in the Israel Museum. I know that some families do still have ceremonies with these customary bridal costumes, but generally, we do not see this kind of color at our weddings, regardless of the various lands of origin from where the families trace their roots. As I left the museum, I remember feeling somewhat melancholy about the loss or paucity of color in our lives. As we become more gentrified and more muted and more LIKE EVERYONE ELSE and wear bridal white instead of the colors and styles of our lands of origin, eschew a variety of beautiful colors because they are not “modest” and in general “look like everyone else and wear the uniform” on the outside of our body, I fear what this trend represents on our insides --- are we losing our unique and special and DIFFERENT souls for the sake of fitting in and being like everyone else? How wonderful it would be to bring back all these different ways of coming to the bridal canopy and celebrating our Jewish lives.

I’ll tell you what – go (and run do not walk after your flight of course) to the Israel Museum and go into the Jewish Life exhibit and look at these beautiful bridal outfits and then see what you feel. Now I am going to put on one of my colorful outfits and go to shul. Shabbat Shalom!


  1. Sunnie, thank you for your beautiful post! I only wish I can go there right now!
    May I share this on my fb page? With the right credit, of course.