I checked out of my hotel and headed in the wrong direction to the bus station. I turned around annoyed that I wasted so much time. I didn’t know what to expect of the pilgrimage but I expected to spend the night there and hopefully have some sort of accommodation. At the big pilgrimage sites there is usually accommodation although very sparse. The ride through the Atlas Mountains was almost comical. Anything we could fit in the taxi we did and this included a bike on top and sheep in the trunk. My bag sat behind my head. I got out at Agouim and started asking around where the pilgrimage was. It wasn’t exactly in Agouim but a few km past. They would take me for 50 dirhams. Considering I just paid 20 for a much longer ride I knew something was amiss. But what could I do? At that moment a bus pulled up. Some 40 Israelis piled out. Bingo. I went over to approach them. I was cautious as I knew the situation was bound to be confusing. I just wanted to know how much it should cost to the hilloula.
Wait you are Jewish? What are you doing here? Who is he? Check his bags.
All range of emotions were on display from those who wanted me to join them to the hilloula to those who were so frightened by my sudden appearance that they demanded to search me. After checking my bags, my Hebrew, my name, my purpose, my story (over and over again), they put me on their bus to head to the hilloula. Many were still nervous. One sat next to me to make sure I wouldn’t do anything. He again went over my story. At the hilloula we filed out of the bus. I just had to trust that everything would work out. As long as I was sufficiently cautious these types of experiences had made my Morocco experience. The pilgrimage was to an incredibly tiny Berber village. There was a freshly whitewashed Jewish cemetery. Outside candles burned. Dozens of Israelis from the bus and other Jews sang and danced as they prayed. It was a sight I hadn’t seen for a long time. Although totally out of place I was comfortable. An old man started crying. People were joyous. We ate lunch after that. Canned tuna, corn, and bread. They all kept kosher. Something quite difficult to do outside of the major cities here. I sat next to my former interrogator/friend Simon. He offered me anything I could need. The man to the left of me who was probably in his 60s said that today was the first day in his life that he cried. It was the sight of the tomb of R. David u-Moshe that had been the catalyst. He couldn’t eat, he just cried. The man across from me again wanted to know my story. We painstakingly went over every detail as Simon and others came to my defense. But how he kept asking. I didn’t understand what he meant but he basically wanted to know what language I was speaking when I traveled. I said I knew Arabic. This satisfied him. After praying we had some sweets and they poured me a large glass of water.
Drink, drink Gedalia (my Hebrew name).
I drank. It wasn’t water. It was Arak – aniseed liquor. My first alcohol in months. It was officially a celebration.
We headed back to the bus. I didn’t really know where I was heading but I had a day and half to kill. Did I want to go with them to Marrakech? Sure. Ha, another adventure. By now most on the bus had warmed to me. They wanted to know where I was from, everything, what I was doing there. It wasn’t coincidence that we all met today they warned me it was fate. I would be married within the year they said. Simon asked me if I knew why everyone was nervous. I said because they thought I was a terrorist. He said yes and that this reaction was natural. I agreed and understood. But it made me sad. It made me hope for end to the conflict even more. At least so that people can start trusting again.
The bus ride was illuminating. All were of Moroccan origin. Some had been born there, some had been to Morocco before, and for others it was their first time. On the bus they recalled their parents fondly and their parent’s mix of Hebrew and Arabic (Haji l’po and Lisgor et haBab). And then there was a drum. I noticed it when I first got on. For the next two hours there was non-stop singing and drumming. It was beyond festive. It was awesome.