2 Girls, 2 Opposing Jewish Culture in Mexico

As the title would suggest, Guita Schyfter’s “Novia Que Te Vea” [A Bride to Be] is a film about women destined to become brides. But the primary focus of this movie’s story line is not on weddings, or dating, or even romantic love. Instead, the relationship at the core of this film is the friendship between Oshinka and Rifke, two young Jewish-Mexican women who support and comfort each other through some of the most difficult decisions of their lives.

Both Rifke and Oshinka were born and raised in Mexico, and grew up in very different—but equally Jewish—families. Oshinka’s Ladino speaking grandparents immigrated to Mexico from Istambul in the 1920s; Rifke’s parents are Eastern- European refugees and survivors of Hitler’s Europe. Rifke’s Ashkenazic upbringing is a mixture of Socialist- Zionist politics and the constant specter of her parent’s traumatic past. Oshinka, on the other hand, is part of a large, loving, and close-knit Sephardic family. Her parents, grandparents, aunts, and cousins teach her songs and folk-tales in Ladino, encourage her to cook and to sew, and expect her to get married as soon as possible.

Oshinka and Rifke become close friends through the “Shomer,” a Socialist-Zionist youth group. Oshinka’s mother does not approve of her daughter’s involvement in the group. She warns her not to become like the “Yiddishers,” who, she feels, have loose morals. Rifke’s mother is equally prejudiced against the Sephardic community, calling them “backward” and “ignorant.”

In spite of their divergent backgrounds, what these two friends have in common is a mutual feeling of alienation arising from growing up Jewish in Mexico. Oshinka recalls children in the park accusing her and her brother of killing Jesus. Rifke remembers her parent’s horror when, as a child, she begged them for a Christmas tree.

Issues of dating and marriage bring both young women into crisis with their families. Rifke is in love with a non-Jewish Mexican activist, but does not want to put her parents through anymore pain by telling them about her interfaith relationship. Oshinka cannot bear to tell her family that she does not want to marry the “perfect” boyfriend who shares their conservative values. The friends rely on one other for acceptance and support as they examine and challenge their respective backgrounds and eventually make their own surprising choices.

“Novia Que Te Vea” explores the tensions and benefits of cultural pluralism on a variety of levels. Director Guita Schyfter handles relationships between Jewish and Christian Mexicans, as well as those between Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews, with intelligence and subtlety. This film asks many important questions: How can Mexican Jews be accepted as Mexicans, while still maintaining their ethnic and religious identities? When must you challenge your family’s values, and when do you celebrate them? That the film does not give any easy answers is testament to its honesty.