Jewish Maghrib Jukebox

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Er Rachidia – November 6

I can't believe they were finally right/accurate. It actually took 8 hours to get to Er Rachidia from Beni Mellal. It was a pretty drive and I stocked up on drinks and food and so it actually wasn’t too bad. It was very local transport, meaning I sat next to people and animals and in particular an unhappy looking turkey. An interesting thing about Morocco is that you really see food through its entire process. In other words that turkey that I sat next to on the bus could easily end up at the butcher next to my hotel who then sells it to the restaurant across the street. You see everything here, not just the end result.

When I arrived in Rachidia I unfortunately ran into a bad faux guide (meaning he’s not a good guide or faux guide and very unconvincing). I was happy to get rid of him once I checked into my hotel and told him that I was not in fact interested in going to the dunes of the Sahara again. Rachidia is one of the last stops before the sand and many faux guides here wait for tourists at the bus station and then try to hustle them into some sort of desert experience.

I headed straight to Akhawayn Bookshop (the Brothers Bookshop) to look for my contact Brahim who I met about a month ago with my friends Amir and Tara. Of course Akhawayn was closed and a neighboring bookshop later confirmed that Brahim had closed the shop for the day. I called Brahim and he was outside of the bookshop within 5 minutes. He quickly opened up the synagogue for me. Again, I have to reiterate that it is the perfect candidate for restoration. It is beautiful. Tall ceilings. Hand carved wood. Bima still in tact. Ark still in tact. The problem is one of age and extreme weather. The roof has partially collapsed and water sits on the remainder. Rachidia has been subject to serious flooding recently (so serious that the King made a visit to express sympathy/solidarity) and the synagogue is of course in danger of further deterioration. So much is there right now. Not only the synagogue structure itself but also boxes and boxes of books including everything from prayer books to Aleph Bet instruction. In addition there are boxes filled with tallitot (prayer shawls) and tefilin (phylacteries). All of it is incredibly moving.

I had heard that there was another synagogue close by with a unique door. The door apparently was emboldened by a large Hannukiah and apparently was the only of its kind in all of Morocco. Brahim put me on the back of his scooter and we were off. First he showed me what he believed to be the oldest of the three synagogues left in Rachidia. No roof but bima surrounded 4 columns. Bench was visible. Not restorable but would be good to clean up and clear trash. Paint it and install a plaque with its history. Still had a door and I tried to push it open at which point one of the glass panes shattered on my hand but I was luckily left unscathed.

He then scootered me over to the third synagogue. Indeed the door had a large Hannukiah on it. I didn’t get a chance to look inside (only a few peeks through holes in the wall because the door was locked and Brahim had left that key at home). It looks like the bima is still intact. He told me to come back the next morning and he would bring the key.

As I was taking pictures two nice ladies approached me and asked me what I was doing. After I explained to them that I am interested in preserving these synagogues they started to tell me about what sounds like a wonderful non-profit they run in Gourama. They help young kids with after school type programming, women with business, and older illiterate folks learn to read. They wanted my help. I wasn’t sure what I could do but I promised that if I could do something and it made sense that I would help.

No comments: