Grandmother’s Lace*
  • Grandmother’s Lace*

    Grandmother’s Lace*
    digital film installation
    trunk, lace, 12 min. dvd
    2004

    This digital video was based on two years of research I did about my mother-in-law’s family. Her parents were among the 15,000 Sabbetaic1 people who moved to Istanbul from Thessalonika, Greece, in 1924, as a part of the population exchange. Referred to as “dönme”, they settled in the Şişli/Nişantaş area of Istanbul and lived as a close-knit minority group. While not becoming devout Moslems, family members from my mother-in-law’s generation, attempted to assimilate into the Turkish Republic by giving up their Jewish ties and beginning to marry outside their Sabbetaic clan. Today their heritage exists only as a family narrative.

    For this project, I visited and listened to the stories of elderly female family members. Since I inherited a trunk of beautiful lace work made by my mother-in-law’s mother, I was particularly interested to learn about their tradition of lace making. From these ladies (four who were actually born in Thessalonika), I learned that the floral designs of the lace originated from abstractions of flowers that had grown in the gardens of family homes.

    In the summer of 2004, the music made specifically for this project was researched and arranged by Hadass Pal-Yarden (Phd. Student at Istanbul Technical University). Jak Esim, the first male vocalist, played the Shofar (a ram’s horn used to signify the end of the fast during the Kippur Jewish holiday) and recited a Jewish prayer. As a child, Jak recalls having heard the sound of the Shofar from a neighboring secret Sabbetaic prayer room located near the Sisli synogue. Hadass Pal-Yarden, the female vocalist sang, “Noches Noches”, a well known romance song, using the Judeo-Spanish language. Some researchers believe that this song was originally sung by Sabbetai Levi as a part of the “Mum Söndü” (candle) ritual. The English translation for this melody is:

    Nights nights, beautiful nights
    Nights are for love, ah nights are for love, ah, aman.
    Rolling in the bed
    Like a fish in the sea, ah like a fish in the sea, ah, aman.
    Ah what nights mother
    Unforgettable nights, ah, aman.

    The prayer, sung in Ottoman Turkish and Judeo-Spanish, “Cennetin Kapısı”(Doors of Paradise), was taken from a Sabbetaic hymn originally sung by Haluk Dervish. This is the first time a Sabbetaic melody has been presented in public.

    Another Sabbetaic prayer in Ottoman language was taken from
    Moshe Attias/Gershom Scholem, “Sefer Shirot ve Tishbahot Shel Ha’Shabtaim”,
    Tel Aviv, 1947, p. 62.

    The second male vocalist,Yurdal Tokcan, also played the Ud and Fretless Guitar while Oktay Ozderici played percussions, and Derya Turkan played the Kemence.

    *This project was materialized with the sponsorshio of Cosmopolis 1: Balkan Biennial.

    1.My mother-in-law descends from the followers of the Jewish Kabbalist Sabbatai Levi (1626-76). In 1666 after being arrested by the Ottomans, to save his life, he and his followers officially converted to Islam. For over 200 years they lived in a closed society, refrained from marrying either Jews or Moslems, and secretly continued their Jewish traditions.