Jewish Maghrib Jukebox

Monday, September 1, 2008


Sale (pronounced Sla) sits on the other side of Rabat across from the River Bou Regreg. It is easily walkable from Rabat. However, it was a very hot day and so we cut our losses and took a grand taxi (again that’s 3 in the front and 4 in the back) to Sale. I again decided it would be best to first locate the cemetery and then head for the mellah and work on locating once of the 4 synagogues that I knew to be somewhat preserved. I hailed a petit taxi intending to beat the heat on my way to the cemetery?

How far is the Jewish cemetery from here? I asked. Not far at all, he responded, and gave me directions by foot. He was a youngish man and I was surprised that he 1) didn’t offer to take me by taxi and 2) that he answered so quickly. We walked outside Bab Mrisa in the old city and up and around the city. I stopped a father and child along the way if they knew where the Jewish cemetery was and the father took me by the arm and pointed me in the right (but general) direction. We decided to make a left. It seemed right at the time. I found myself staring at psychiatric hospital and knew myself to be lost. A women and teenager stopped and stared at us. Were we lost, did we need help? They asked. Yes, in fact, we’re looking for the Jewish cemetery. He lives there, the woman said, and he’ll take you there. So after having randomly made a turn it turned out we had run into a young man that lived at the cemetery (many cemeteries have Muslim caretakers who live full time on the premises). He led us for about 10 minutes to the cemetery. This time there was no question at the gate, we were simply let in and the young man disappeared. The Sale Jewish cemetery is large. It contains the tombs of several tzaddikim including that of Raphael Anqawa (there is a pilgrimage to his tomb annually). We toured the synagogue on our own and much of it was in perfect condition. There were several mausoleums and benches surrounding the tomb of Rabbi Anqawa. At the tomb there were dozens of Books of Psalms, some with inscriptions from 60 years ago. Behind the mausoleum there is what looks like a makeshift synagogue.

We finished touring the cemetery, tipped the family, and left, heading for the mellah. We located the mellah of Sale quite quickly but had difficult locating the synagogues on our own. It was a very hot day and that weighed on us. We knew that Sale was a short walk from Rabat and that we would be back. I asked a couple of folks if they knew of synagogues. There were but there are no more Jews here, they left, is what I would constantly hear. A woman emerged from a house in the mellah. There is a synagogue outside of the mellah, about a 10-minute walk from here. After arguing with a neighbor about its exact location, he led us to another couple of locals who pointed us in the right direction. A few minutes later we found it. But it didn’t look like a synagogue to me. It was too big and too far from the mellah. It looked to me like a church and I wondered if the woman in the mellah had misunderstood me. There were about 50 men in their early 20s sitting and eating outside this old structure. It was fenced off. I asked them if they knew what this building was. The best they could come up with was factory and our journey to Sale ended there. I needed to start meeting with people, both local Jews and Muslims, who would help me unravel some of the mysteries I was facing, especially regarding location and key holders of synagogues. I decided that that Friday I would seek out the active synagogue in Rabat and attempt to go to Shabbat services.

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