“Tu boca en los cielos:” A New Documentary about Sephardic Jews of North Africa

Imagine if you could confront every person who ever wronged you. Well, maybe not every single one. But how about the one(s) who you felt mistreated you the worst in your life? Would you want to tell them about how terrible they were? Or would you prefer to show them how you picked yourself up and made the best of your life in spite of their cruelty or injustice?

In Tu boca en los cielos, (directed by Miguel Ángel Nieto), Rachel, a Sephardic Jew from Tangier, takes the second approach and writes a letter (and delivers it to their tomb in Granada) to the long dead Catholic monarchs of Spain. Queen Isabel and King Fernando, exiled the Jewish people from their Catholic kingdoms in 1492, with the infamous “Edict of Expulsion.”  In this stirring and heartfelt documentary, Rachel’s letter serves as the point of departure to explore adaptations and accomplishments by descendents of the expelled Jews over the last five centuries in North Africa. Specifically, the documentary highlights individuals, communities and traditions from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

The official English title of the documentary is the poetic “Your Wishes in Heaven.” When I watched the documentary, and thought of the title in Spanish, Tu boca en los cielos, I was reminded of a more literal and physically descriptive phrase uttered by Jewish friends: “From your lips to God’s ears!” which I’ve heard many times, and conveys a similar meaning. Regardless, this saying in either English or Spanish, is in the vernacular of many Jewish people and can be traced back to the Psalms in scripture. But it also appears in Arabic and Hebrew, which epitomizes the blend of cultures that characterize the subjects of the film.

Tu boca en los cielos is a captivating and enlightening documenary. Although I had some knowledge of Sephardic cultures and history, I had never delved into the experience of those in North Africa. The film features several elderly Jews who tell the story of their ancestors and/or their communities in the region.

Some of the highlights for me were the explanation of the “Noche Berberisca” (The Berber Night), a celebration held the night before a Sephardic wedding in Morocco. The bride’s dress and exotic headgear in themselves are alluring, and the ceremony is entrancing.

Thrones_for_the_groom_and_bride_at_their_Berberisca

Thrones for bride and groom in the Noche BerberiscaMaor X [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

I also learned about  the “Mimuna,” an event to mark the end of Passover, and pilgrimages. “La Haketia” is the language passsed down for generations spoken by Sephardic Jews in Morocco. Very similar to Spanish, the language incorporates influences from Hebrew, Arabic, French and Portuguese. The archives of Simancas in Valladolid, Spain is a significant repository of  documents about Spains’ Jews before and after expulsion. Moreover, many Sephardic writers have commercially and self-published books, such as Lusia Salama, Luna Bentata and Èlie Benchetrit.  The quantity of cultural information in Tu boca en los cielos is overflowing and just too much to list here. 

Finally, what adds to the charm of Tu boca en los cielos is the soundtrack and the inclusion of original music by Tomás Lozano and performances by other musicians, such as Mara Aranda and Paco Diez.  In this documentary, “Sefarad”, in all its visual and auditory splendor, is posited as more than the Iberian peninsula pre-1492. It is a spiritual memory or consciousness.   It has remained in the mind, heart and soul of a people for over five centuries. What I understood from this film, is that being Sephardic is not just about being a descendent of those Spanish Jews who had to leave for maintaining their religion, but also about all the new cultures, languages and experiences that these people encountered and embraced for more than 500 years.

Tu boca en los cielos has been shown in different cities in Spain, in New York City and is making the rounds in film festivals around the world. I definitely recommend you catch it when it comes to your area–especially those interested in North Africa, Sephardic Jews or their history. Here is a glimpse from the trailer:

TU BOCA EN LOS CIELOS / teaser from Miguel Ángel Nieto on Vimeo.