Jewish Maghrib Jukebox

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Waiter and Synagogue in Er Rachidia – October 7

We continued north and stopped in Er Rachidia for dinner. It was our second stop in Er Rachidia, having had dinner there the night before on our way down. Er Rachidia was surprisingly hectic on the first night we were there but had calmed down the second night. Er Rachidia, formerly the much older Ksar El Souk, was a former French foreign legion town. The new city was on built on a grid and easy to navigate. We stopped to have dinner at the main drag in town, the Imilchil Restaurant. Our waiter was curt and refused to speak to us in any language that we were speaking. If I spoke Arabic he responded in Spanish and when Amir spoke Spanish the waiter responded in broken English. We finished our meal and began to pay. There was a mistake on the bill and I explained it to the waiter and he quickly corrected it. We were about to go and then he said in Arabic:
You know I used to work in Israel.
I thought I had heard wrong.
What? I said.
I used to work in Israel at a Latin restaurant.
I couldn’t figure out why he was telling me this. Did I look Jewish to him? Was he confiding in me?
Yes, I lived there for 4 years. I have an Israeli passport. When the Palestinians stopped working in Israel, I went to Israel and worked.

He said much more and I continued to incredulously ask him questions. I asked him to describe someone here in Morocco I was sure he would know to test him. He very much knew whom I was talking about. I couldn’t believe this. What were the odds? I decided to seize the opportunity.

Where are the synagogues in town?
Just two blocks up on your right, he said.

I thanked him and we left. I asked Amir and Tara if we could stop to see if we could find anything. They were happy to oblige. On our way I saw three older men talking. I stopped them and asked them for help. They were so excited. Was I Moroccan they wanted to know. They had found memories of the Jews in Er Rachidia. They said it was very good that I was helping my Jewish friends (Amir and Tara – who isn’t Jewish) look for the synagogue. I told them I was Jewish but they refused to believe I was no matter how many times I told them I was. They told me that Amir and Tara looked like Jews who would have lived here 50 years ago. It was a very funny situation.

I walked over with the oldest of the three gentleman using my upper arm for support and to guide me. One of the three men eventually figured out that my Arabic was not native and switched to perfect English. He was after all an English teacher in Casablanca. We found the building with in minutes. On the outside in large Hebrew writing it said Beit Knesset (synagogue). We found the young man who has been entrusted with the key and as darkness finally settled he three open the doors to a 300-year-old abandoned synagogue.

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