Jewish Maghrib Jukebox

Monday, August 25, 2008

To Ouezzane

We left the next morning for Ouezzane by Grand Taxi (4 in the back, 3 in the front including the driver). According to my calendar there was a hilloula (pilgrimage) to the grave of Rabbi Amram Ben Diwan, an 18th century tzaddik, scheduled for Saturday. I knew that the large hilloula to Rabbi A. Ben Diwans grave was during Lag Baomer and I knew that in the past there was usually a smaller one on his yartzheit. Rabbi Amram Ben Diwan is buried in Ouezzane’s Jewish cemetery which is located 9 km to the north in the city of Azjen. I wasn’t sure of what to expect of Azjen. Would it be a proper city? Would there by a hotel for us to stay at so that we could attend the hilloula without breaking Shabbat? We decided to head straight for Azjen after reaching Ouezzane. We took a petit taxi to a grant taxi which dropped us at Azjen. Everyone knew that we were headed to the Jewish cemetery. We got out of the taxis, bags in hand, and approached three men. Two were clearly military and the third was a man wearing the jalabiya (traditional male dress) and baseball hat from an Israeli tour company. Was he the caretaker of the cemetery I thought? I started to explain in Arabic. They started to respond in Arabic and French and asked for our names and passports. I explained my purpose for being there (to visit the tomb of Rabbi Ben Diwan) and that we were Jewish. He motioned us in but didn’t let us get far.

Are you Jewish?
What’s your name?
Let me see your passport.

I pulled out my passport again and said in Hebrew that I have a Hebrew name and it’s Gedalia. He hit me on the arm and then said back to me in heavily accented Hebrew: Gedalia, why didn’t you say so? Let’s go. He told me I looked like his son in New York and asked me where I was from. I asked him his name, he said it was Amram too. I told him a little about my trip in Morocco, that I was living in Rabat and studying Arabic and interested in attending the hilloula. Was there indeed a hilloula tonight or tomorrow? Not really he said. I thought that had settled it. He showed me the complex, quickly, and led me to Rabbi Ben Diwans tomb. It lies under a very large tree and is covered with large rocks. The bottom portion of the tree is whitewashed. I bought candles and lit them and placed them on the rocks and then Amram said a blessing on my behalf. Amen, I said. I toured the synagogue on premises and asked Amram if I could look around a bit. He seemed to be in a rush or at least want us out of there. There were preparations for something, it was clear. On the way out I stopped at the tomb of Rabbi David HaCohen and noticed that the cemetery was also something of a convention center. It must be here that they housed pilgrims. On the premises there are little cottages.

We took some more photos and headed for the entrance. There we would wait for another grand taxi. We put our bags down by the gate and then Jen asked if there was a bathroom. I hadn’t noticed one before but apparently by the cottages there were also bathrooms. As I waited for Jen I saw three 15, 16 year olds eating lunch, all wearing kippot. I approached them in Hebrew and asked them about the cottages. There was indeed a hilloula, it would last all week. There were services on Friday and Saturday as usual and Saturday night would be the major celebrating with singing and dancing. Could I stay here I asked? They thought so but weren’t sure. You had to bring your own food with you. Perhaps I could go into town and return later that day. It was all very unofficial. I asked them where they lived. They said Casablanca but during the year in some city I hadn’t heard of.

Where is that?
England, they said.
Oh, you go to yeshivah there?
So…we all speak English?

I spoke to them some more, now in English, and told them I would hopefully return Saturday night. I definitely didn’t want to show up in a taxi on Saturday night if Shabbat hadn’t completed ended so I asked them what time they thought it ended. 9.30, they said. If I went, how would I get home? Would there be a grand taxi at 1 am after the festivities end? Could I walk the 9 km in the dark?

We wished each other a Shabbat Shalom.

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