Jewish Maghrib Jukebox

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Beni Mellal Redux – November 12

Just when you think its over and you start heading back you realize how much Jewish history there really is in this country. It is almost inescapable. I was back in BM for my second anti-Rabies shot. My friend in Casa had told me that there were still a half dozen Jewish women in Beni Mellal. That was the information I had and that is what I went looking for. I started asking around. A man took me by the hand and walked me to an apartment building.

There is a Jewish woman who lives here. Her name is Alice. Everyone knows her.

She wasn’t there. Maybe that was good. What would I speak to her in? Arabic. How would I explain myself and what I was doing? I suddenly felt intrusive. I went back to the man who had helped me earlier.

Alice isn’t there.
Well you have to try her at her hair salon then.
Where is it?

He gave me a set of complicated but manageable directions and then I found her.

Are you Alice?
Yes.
I’m a Jewish American and I know Raphael from Casablanca who I believe you know.

I got a funny look.

My friend here knows English. She said.

There was a man in her shop. Blond hair, blue eyes.

You speak English? I asked.
Yes.

He said he was from Chicago but he wasn’t. He wanted to know where I was from. He didn’t believe me. He didn’t want to hear that I was born and raised in America. He wanted to know my roots, my heritage, and my history. It was all very confusing. How did he know English so well. Did he not believe who I was? I guess it was strange me just showing up like this.

After more questioning I got to the bottom of it. Alice and Raphael were friends from childhood. His name was Raphael too and although I earlier referred to a different Raphael it was confusing and made my whole story seem made up. He was born in BM and friends with Alice from childhood. He had left for Israel with his family and then eventually moved to Chicago. He was from Chicago. She had never left. She had a teenage daugher named Sarah. I met her. She would have fit in in Los Angeles or Israel. A Moroccan Jewish teenage hipster – almost.

I had so many questions. Was Alice married? Was her daughter being raised Jewish? Did she keep Kosher? Did she observe the holidays? What was it like to see her community dissapear? Does she feel safe? Does she think of leaving?

I couldn’t ask any of them. I was frozen. It didn’t make sense to interview, only to enjoy. There were no pictures to take. Just enjoy. And so I enjoyed the moment for what it was: Three Jews talking and having tea together. After a while I put my tea down and thanked Alice and Raphael for the visit and left.

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