Anna Vandelman writes:
My dear friend Suzanne Benchimol came to the Guild’s February meeting to teach us about Moroccan Jewish textiles. Most in attendance had no idea of the exquisite, sumptuous clothing they were about to see.
Suzanne made it most interesting by taking us through the lIfe cycle of clothing from the garments and wrappers of the Brit Milah to the henna ceremony garb and wedding dresses. WOW! She detailed for us every inch of each piece.
Suzanne is a very accomplished designer and seamstress. This is most evident in the unbelievable work on the layered wedding ensembles she creates. We saw some examples in photographs but the highlight of the night was the outfit we could examine – layer by layer – as Suzanne dressed our model, member Barbara Goldstein – a recent bride herself. We were impressed by the perfection of each embroidered stitch, bead, and decorative textile, no matter what we were shown.
Today many brides prefer to wear white gowns for their wedding day. So, it has become a custom that the richly embroidered dress and matching headress (the bride is seen as a queen and so a crown is essentia!l), is worn for the Henna Night, when all women add henna to the bride’s palms. The layers of the gown are designed to be adjustable in fit. The gowns were often shared around within families and communities, or loaned to poor families.
Suzanne explained every custom, from the engagement to the henna night to the wedding day to the Brit Milah to the Bar Mitzvah and so on. She used videos to show us the ceremonies with the customary textiles in use. So, for example, the Brit Milah besides being shown on film was enhanced by the baby’s dress itself that we could see and touch. And the henna video let us see how family members would help support the crown, and gown. And we could also hear the typical ululations!
We were allowed to touch the textiles she brought for us to examine, including beautiful old silk shawls and heritage tallit bags. Besides being totally involved in the textile art of life- cycle clothing Suzanne actively invents and plans programs for residents and patients at Baycrest in the Home and Hospital and she has been honoured as a Baycrest treasure having her photo added to the wall in the Silverman Court.
Thank you Suzanne, for this special, informative and delightful evening!
I am sorry I had to miss it. I had ten lighting fixtures installed in my new place and had to repack seven original ones for removal. I was just too exhausted Having met Suzanne in 1992 in connection with the Guild’s joint project with the Sephardic community, and met her another time at her home to order a bench cushion which she had custom made for my old place, I can attest to her delightful and knowlegable talks . may she go from strength to strength.
We missed you too, Harriet. So glad you’ve had a chance to meet and work with Suzanne and appreciate her amazing work!