Jewish Morocco

Friday, November 7, 2008

Akka – Oct 27

I hoped on the first (9 am) bus to Akka and arrived only to really begin to understand what the middle of nowhere means. Every time I think I have found the middle of nowhere I realize that I was previously at the edge of somewhere and I am crossing into nowhere only now. Akka is an oasis, a palmary, close to the Algerian border. It is an ancient caravan route and an ancient area of Jewish settlement. Akka is composed of the city Akka and small douar or villages (about 7 in total). I initially had to set up and figure out which villages I was exploring. After interviewing a few of the towns elders I realized that I was going to visit two villages: Zawiya and Tagadirt. How far was Zawiya? Zawiya was the northern most village and about 8 kilometers by foot through dry riverbeds and through mud brick villages from where I stood. I enlisted the help of a high school student who walked me to Tagadirt and from there I continued on my own. It was some of the most stunning scenery I have yet to see her. Everything you could want from an oasis including intense heat, palm trees and sudden pools. I finally reached Zawiya. In these villages I was clearly an outsider. I couldn’t even attempt to blend in. Some men directed me to the Jewish cemetery. The pointed to a distant mountain and told me to walk until there and I would find the cemetery. In a way these were some of the clearest directions I have gotten in Morocco but of course nothing is that simple. I climbed over rocks and hills until I reached the mountain but found rocks. I had a feeling I would be looking for desecrated graves that would resemble rocks. It’s a funny thing to be looking for rocks amongst rocks. I combed the edge of the mountain only to find nothing or rocks or possibly a cemetery but in reality nothing. There was a group of 5 local woman herding sheep on the mountain. They were coming my way. I shouted to them in Arabic to ask where the cemetery was. I was afraid I would scare them but that definitely was not the case. In perfect Moroccan Arabic one shouted back: I don’t know Arabic, I only know Chleuh (Berber). She was too young for that to be true. They headed towards me and I finally communicated that I wanted to see graves. They waved me on to follow. So here I was at the edge of an oasis by a mountain with women herding sheep following them to find the Jewish cemetery. They didn’t identify the cemetery as Jewish when we arrived. Only that it was an infidel’s cemetery. I knew I was in the right place. We had a good laugh throughout the process, especially when they tried to squeeze me for a few dirhams.

I searched as widely and as carefully as possibly. I had clearly reached the Jewish cemetery of Zawiya but none of the graves were in a good condition. They had all been destroyed and theoretically for reasons associated with superstition. Surround the graves were broken tagines, clothes, and hairbrushes (Interesting note: When I passed by a Muslim cemetery earlier in the morning I noticed a broken tagines everywhere. I’m now wondering if there is significance to the practice of breaking pottery in a Jewish cemetery or if it just a cemetery that is needed). I was about to head to Tagadirt when I noticed a couple of structures in the near distance. I walked down towards them pretty sure I was at any moment going to be stung by scorpion and found that they were mausoleums for tzaddikim. The graves still maintained their shape and I made out three distinct graves in two separate buildings. Unfortunately I could not find any Hebrew inscription anywhere but it looked to me like tzaddikim that were once visited but no longer. They were Berber independence symbols on the wall and I even found a Star of David crossed out. It was disappointing and exciting all at the same time.

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