Jewish Maghrib Jukebox

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tea with Brahim

I woke up much earlier then I hoped to wake up. I’ve been sick for the last couple days and last night I didn’t sleep well either. Lots of things race through my mind at night and I’m always trying to strategize for the next day right before I head to bed. This morning I woke up, took a shower, had a croissant, and headed straight for the mellah. I had a little bit more trouble locating the synagogue but after a few minutes I found it. It was indeed the Aaron HaCohen Synagogue and I brought the 55-year-old photo with me for proof. It looked impossible to get in and I stared at it for a very long time. I walked up and down the street looking at it from different angles but couldn’t figure out if it was somehow possible to get in. Finally I heard a voice call me to from above, literally. It was a man from a window adjacent to the synagogue asking me what I was looking for. I shouted to him that I was looking for the synagogue that used to be here. We exchanged some more information and he told me to walk to the other side of his building and he’d let me in. His daughter let me in and let me up to his apartment. We’ll call him Brahim. Brahim invited me into his home for tea. It was exactly what I needed for my throat and for this alone I was happy. He told me how he grew up close to the synagogue and that the Jews used to give him sweets and chocolate. Lots of Jews lived here he kept reiterating. He had a lot of art on his walls. He told me that he painted and that he used to work with marionettes.

I’m not Arab you know. He said
I was very surprised that he said that. Then what are you?

He struggled to pull out his necklace that was tucked into his shirt. It was a cross. He directed me to the walls again where many an image of Jesus hung. He had converted years ago. I had heard of some Moroccan converts to Christianity from some friends but this was certainly the first I met. He then told me that it was impossible to get into the synagogue. He would help me climb over a serious of walls to get a better look at a synagogue and the former home of the Hazzan family. So we climbed up to his roof past Oscar the dog and over three walls. The roof of the synagogue is in bad condition. There is a skylight that provided a tantalizing peak inside but that’s about it. I was elated and a little disappointed at the same time. He told me that young kids sneak into the synagogue through a small hole but he tries to keep them out.

Why do they go inside? I asked.
To play. He said.

He pointed out a few more Jewish sites from the roof and we descended back into his house. He then showed me a few pictures. Some years ago he had met an Israeli of Moroccan decent who had come to El Jadida to search out his family’s synagogue, home, and where they were buried. While I had not been the first to meet Brahim in my search for Jewish Morocco, I knew I was in good company.

I asked him if he knew BenSimon Street as I had heard that there is a synagogue there that you can actually enter. He directed me to a street but upon later searching I couldn’t find it. We finished watching an Indian film and I thanked him for his time. As we exited I thought it would be appropriate to hand him some money for his trouble, if not just for the tea. He refused, I thanked him and we parted ways.

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