My family roots stem both from Peru and from Mexico. The cultures of these two countries have always had a strong influence in my life and in the life of my two older sisters, and eventually in the lives of our respective children.
The three of us were born in Mexico to a Mexican father of Jewish Polish decent. He was raised in Peru and eventually returned to Mexico as a young man to establish a Jewish home there with my mother, who was born in France and emigrated to Mexico as a Holocaust survivor. My mother died when she was very young, leaving the three of us to be cared for by our dear Mexican Nanny, and our devoted father.
Years went by and we all grew up. Life took each of us in very different geographical directions. I made aliyah (moved to Israel) and eventually met my dear Jewish Peruvian future husband of 32 years, as I was visiting one of my sisters who was happily married and living in Peru. When my husband and I decided to get married, we did so in Peru.
As our Jewish tradition dictates, when a young bride is about to get married, she prepares for the big day by going to the Mikveh. In Lima you did that with your mother on the Friday morning before the wedding day. When that big day came for me, my two older sisters played the role of our departed mother, and together the two watched me immerse in the ritual waters of the Mikveh in Lima. It was a very private, very solemn, very emotional ceremony. It felt almost secretive and very intimate. Just the three of us, the “Mikveh Lady”, and the Shechinah (a place within the presence of G-d).
Over twenty years later, in a funny repetition of history, my Peruvian niece and nephew emigrated to Mexico City from Peru, and both established Jewish homes there. It was then, first when my niece got married, and then when my nephew did, that I first encountered the lovely, all inclusive, warm, and inviting way in which the Syrian Jews in Mexico practice the tradition of the ritual immersion before the wedding.
That ceremony is all geared towards offering community support to the nervous bride, geared to accompany and embrace her by offering encouragement, good advice by old timers, and sharing dreamy hopes for the future by her peers and friends! What a different approach! Instead of an intimate circle of three, there was an open circle of many surrounding and cheering the bride on!
As I witnessed this lovely minhag (tradition), I knew that here in Boston, where I was raising my family, the notion of adopting such a ceremony would be highly unlikely and I dared not dream of such an option for my three girls when their big day arrived.
But then, when my other nephew got married in Buenos Aires, my niece exported this tradition and brought it with her as a gift to her new and future sister-in-law!
That was last year in October. As soon as my very own child got engaged a few months after that, I said to myself: “What if I do the same?? What if I bring this amazing community-supportive and lovely tradition to Newton and offer it to my child??”
Mayyim Hayyim offered us the spiritual and physical space to be able to do so! My daughter and her friends were welcomed with open arms and were allowed the comfortable space and freedom to bring together and merge the various minhagim (traditions) from each of the cultures to which our international family have been exposed. We were able to bring these together under the unifying quilt of our ancient Jewish tradition of the ritual immersion that has prepared young brides for generations and across continents for thousands of years.
It was an unforgettable and wonderful way to lead my beautiful girl through the gates of Jewish womanhood on the eve of her marvelous wedding!
Gaby Zwiebach was born in Mexico City, made aliyah as a teenager, and eventually came to the US with her husband Barton where they happily raised a family of four here in Newton, MA.