For 90 years, a local family’s brides – and close friends – have passed down a special heirloom
By Courtney Byrnes
When Ruth Klinger Borstein walked down the aisle in 1932, chiffon handkerchief in hand, she began a tradition that has lasted 90 years, crossed four generations and connected more than 85 brides.
After her own wedding, she passed the handkerchief on to friends and eventually her daughter, Joan Borstein Rogoff – the 12th bride to carry that handkerchief – when she was married at the Tudor Arms Hotel in Cleveland on March 11, 1956, at the age of 20.
As the popular tradition goes, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue,” this family heirloom continues to serve as that something old or borrowed for those who carry it on their wedding day.
Rogoff, now 86, carried on her mother’s tradition of lending the hanky to her friends, and passing it down to her daughters, Debbie Rogoff Aronson and Marci Rogoff Moses, and daughter-in-law, Neela Levey Rogoff. When Liza Friedman Aronson married Chad, the son of Debbie Rogoff Aronson, Aug. 19, 2017 at the Cuyahoga County Courthouse, she became the 84th bride and the first in the fourth-generation to carry the hanky.
“It’s got more meaning than I can even say because to see it is still going down, and it’s almost tattered in spots,” Rogoff says. “I completely cherish it, and I just gave it to my daughter here a few (years) ago for her to be in charge of it now,” referring to her daughter, Marci Rogoff Moses, 55, the current keeper of the hanky.
It is kept alongside a book with each bride’s name, number and date of the wedding carried in.
“I was young when I lost my grandmother, but the fact that I have this is very special,” says Moses, the 53rd bride to carry the hanky on her wedding day, Aug. 10, 1991 at Landerhaven in Mayfield Heights, when she was 24. As keeper, she says she enjoys presenting the heirloom to friends and family, explaining and bringing the tradition to more brides.
When Debbie Rogoff Aronson, 61, carried it at her Aug. 12, 1984 wedding at Landerhaven at the age of 23, it was special for both families involved as her husband’s aunt was her mother, Joan Rogoff’s best friend, and the hanky had been passed down and used by both families.
The tradition has grown generation by generation, as friends pass the hanky down to their children. New friends are also welcomed to share in celebrating with the tradition.
“This book will grow, God willing, and hopefully the hanky lasts,” Rogoff Aronson says. “And it will – even if it’s just a piece of it at some point.”
Becoming part of the family
While most brides carry the hanky wrapped around their bouquet, when Neela Levey Rogoff, 49, married Eric Rogoff on May 1 at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood with their reception at Elle Restaurant & Lounge in Solon, she tucked it in her bolero sleeve, letting it hang out by her hand. She was the 85th bride to carry it.
“When Marci and Eric told me about it, to me, it meant that I’m part of the family to marry a brother,” she says. “(Eric is) the love of my life and it was just so special. … It meant so much to Eric, it meant so much to him for me to carry it, too. He’s like ‘You’re part of my family now.’”
Most of the weddings that have featured the hanky have been Jewish weddings, which adds another layer to the treasured heirloom.
“To have an heirloom generally is very special,” says Liza Friedman Aronson, 29. “I would say the American Jewish community, our families came here, particularly mine more recently, with nothing. Some other families (in America), they always have heirlooms and things that they can pass on. So, it’s nice that finally our people, we’ve been around long enough here that we have our own heirlooms, our own tradition that we’re able to bring and continue on here.”
Many in the Rogoff family and close friends are aware of the story behind the hanky and excited for the opportunity to carry and pass on the tradition, the women say. For friends or those marrying into the family, the hanky serves as the official seal that they are a part of the family and are connected to all the other brides that have come before and those who will come after them.
For example, two of Rogoff Moses’ college friends, Amy Blocker Drechsler and Debbi Miller Cohen, were asked to carry the hanky in their weddings, becoming the 55th and 62nd brides, respectively, to do so.
“When (friends) include you in their own family and their own traditions, it’s just so touching and it means so much,” says Miller Cohen, who was married Oct. 16, 1993 at Fairmount Temple. “And to be able to be a part of a huge tradition because it was so meaningful to Marci and her family.”
She says there is a clip in her wedding video of Rogoff Moses explaining the tradition and the women who have carried the hanky.
“I never really had lifelong friends or bonds, and I didn’t grow up in a Jewish area, and this was really the first time I felt that kind of community,” says Blocker Drechsler, whose wedding was Nov. 30, 1991 at Fairmount Temple. “This just helps solidify and give me something I never ever had or felt before in my life – this Jewish connection, friendship connection.”
They added that it feels wonderful to be connected and join the family of all the brides who have carried the hanky. The women also look forward to having their daughters one day join in the tradition.
“I’m thrilled when I see it all these years later because we’ve been married 66 years, so when I see it all these years later still being happily used,” it is clear the hanky and the family’s love is very treasured, Rogoff says.
Over this year’s Fourth of July weekend, family and friends gathered to watch the 86th bride carry the hanky down the aisle, as Ruth Klinger Borstein had 90 years before, keeping the tradition alive. With the next generations eager to carry and pass on the heirloom to daughters and friends, the list will undoubtedly continue to grow in the years to come.