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You do not have to be a current member of Woodside Park Synagogue (WPS) to hold your wedding here.  Please email the shul office or phone on 020 8445 4236 to discuss how we can help plan your wedding ceremony.

As well as booking the ceremony, you will need to obtain authorisation for your marriage both from your local authority Register Office and from the Office of the Chief Rabbi.  Please feel free to speak to us and we will help you liaise with the various authorities.

For more information please click here to go to Jewish Weddings Explained on the United Synagogue website.

From Hen to Henna

From Hen to Henna

by Andy

Henna Party
Henna Party
Henna Party
Henna Party
Henna Party

This article on marriage customs has been written by Andy. It includes a detailed account of the henna party which took place before the wedding in 1998 of Andy and Vernon eldest son Robert to Mireille daughter of Jocelyne and David.


Unlike the proverbial rolling stone, we 'Wandering Jews' collect not moss but customs. Chameleon-like, we take on the local colouring, the better to hide our differences; we try to blend in with the surrounding culture.


Throughout our dispersion, we have collected and carried with us customs of all sorts, many of which are connected with betrothal and marriage. We have added to our own rituals the practices of those amongst whom we have temporarily settled (though some of these 'temporary' roosts have lasted centuries).


Sadly, some of these customs are disappearing, perhaps because of assimilation in the Diaspora or because the existence of the State of Israel has given rise to a fusing of cultures, resulting in the emergence of 'Israeli' rituals. Some picturesque ceremonies have been lost. For instance, amongst German Jews in previous centuries, the prospective bride and groom were given matching silver chain belts at their betrothal. During the subsequent marriage service, these belts would be linked together to signify the permanent bond between the couple.


Today, the betrothal has become part of the marriage ceremony, taking place immediately prior to the service. Among Ashkenazi Orthodox Jews, there is still the custom of 'breaking the plate' which is called the 'vort'. When the families have agreed on the marriage, the two mothers break a plate and each keep half. This confirms and endorses the engagement of the couple. This ceremony was once considered to be as binding as marriage; if the engagement was called off, the couple went to a Rabbi to annul the contract. Many people perform the ceremony on the day of the wedding, after the contract is read aloud to the Chatan and just before he goes to 'bedeck' his bride. Nowadays most people who decide to have a 'vort' don't consider it binding; they do it because they consider it a lovely tradition.


Jews from India, North Africa and Arab lands have adopted the 'henna' from their surrounding cultures. This custom seems to have survived quite widely and is seen often in Israel, more rarely outside it. Our eldest son Robert married Mireille Shrago whose mother comes from an Algerian background; the following description will give a general idea of what happens during a henna, though traditions vary.


Women guests were asked to wear caftans to add atmosphere to the party. The evening started with a North African dinner, which included couscous and prune and lamb tagine. Middle Eastern music was played in the background and the more flamboyant guests attempted some Arabic dancing.


After the meal, the future bride and groom were seated on 'thrones' - in our case, high-backed cane chairs. The bride wore a striking scarlet and gold caftan and gold turban whilst the groom wore a white embroidered shirt and a white and gold kipah.


It is normal for the groom's mother to organise the evening but in this case, because the tradition came from the bride's mother's family, Jocelyne gave an explanation of the henna to the guests.


First a candle was lit to symbolise the light and warmth wished for the young couple's home and future. A heavy brass dish contained the henna paste in which some hard-boiled eggs had been placed. These symbolise fertility and the cycle of life. The eggs were removed and the mothers each took some paste in a small spoon; I, as the groom's mother, put the henna onto the bride's palm and placed a solid gold coin in it for prosperity. Jocelyne, the bride's mother, put henna on the groom's little finger. Each smear of henna was wrapped in gauze to stop it from staining clothes and then tied with a red ribbon to protect the couple from the evil eye. At this point, the female relatives who had come over from France for the wedding broke into high-pitched ululation and scattered sugared almonds to show their joy.


The mothers presented the couple with gifts: a new tallit, cufflinks and tie pin for Robert; silver candlesticks and tray, kiddush cups and a Shabbat tablecloth for the home; books of Jewish interest and personal gifts of jewellery, lingerie (and a cuddly toy!) for the bride. The bride and groom were then sprinkled with salt crystals to avert the evil eye once more.


The single young men and women were then 'henna-ed' in the same way - tradition has it that each will find a spouse during the coming year! Once the ceremony was over, the eating, drinking and dancing started again. The whole evening was a very joyous occasion, full of laughter and fun and it made a wonderful beginning to the wedding celebrations.


Jews are still adding to their traditions from the societies in which they live. In America Jewish brides have taken up the bridal shower. It has no religious or fertility significance as so many of the other rituals do; it is just a pleasant occasion to get together with the bride's female friends and colleagues, who bring personal gifts for her trousseau. In the UK, the hen night has become popular - there have even been reports of a male stripper putting on a show in a private room at a kosher restaurant. Thankfully, he did not go so far as to offer physical proof of his Jewishness or lack of it!


Even though the less recent customs may be old only in terms of centuries rather than millennia, it is still worth passing them on to our children. The central precepts of Judaism need to be kept intact but there is no reason why colourful customs should not be borrowed to connect us to our host countries and commemorate our stay after we have moved on. The keeping of these joyful traditions enhances our lives and confirms our continuity.

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