Jewish Maghrib Jukebox

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Er Rachidia Part II - November 7

I decided that when I woke up in the morning I would make my decision about whether to stay in Rachidia or head straight to Rissani. I had figured out last night that I would at least stay here until midday in order to meet with Latifa whom I had met the night before and to see if Brahim brought the key for the third synagogue. I woke up and decided to stay the day and night in Er Rachidia. It was the best decision I could have made. I left my hotel and ran into my faux guide but that was quick and relatively painless. I headed towards Brahim’s shop where I ran into Latifa and her sister. Brahim and I had a quick conversation and then I waited there for about 30 minutes. His shop was busy and he clearly couldn’t leave right when I showed up. He was finally relieved of his duties by a friend and he prepared to leave. He put on a heavier jacket and put a small hammer into his pocket. He went to check on his scooter and had to fill it up with a little bit of gas (which he kept in the store and used a funnel to fill up the tank). We were only going a couple blocks at most so all the ritual was very perplexing to me. We hoped on his scooter and we were off. The ride was much scarier today as instead of cruising around the small streets of the bookshop surrounds we traveled on Rachidia’s major thoroughfare. I realized he was taking me to the cemetery and not the third synagogue. He had told me yesterday that it was quite far and I didn’t realize that he planned on taking me there. We drove past my hotel about a mile and half. There was a very large cemetery (Beit Haim in large Hebrew letters) with mud-brick walls. Brahim knocked loudly on the door a few times but the guardian (I was surprised to find out there was a guardian) didn’t hear or didn’t care to hear. It was still very interesting. Later in the day I would walk back there and from a vantage point above the cemetery climb a small wall and peer over. Although many graves were destroyed or were now hidden because of the extreme weather conditions here it was definitely a sight to see. Suddenly Rachidia seemed much more than just a city one drives through en route to the Sahara. Here was a city where you could still visit three synagogues and a cemetery.

We hoped back on Brahim’s scooter. We made a wrong turn or so I assumed. Could there be a second cemetery? I had read that there was a second cemetery. We drove towards the northern entrance to Rachidia and eventually made a right turn down a dirt road. As I tried not to fall off the scooter I noticed two green doors with Hannukiot on them. We had come to the second cemetery. Now the hammer came into play as he unlocked the gate. We entered the cemetery to find 3 tzaddikim: Rabbi Moul Tria, Rabbi Moul Sidra, and Rabbi Yahia Lahlou. According to tradition Rabbi Lahlou came from the Holy Land to this area during the First Temple period. The walls around the cemetery are high so it would be difficult to get in (unless you had your own hammer). Near the grave of Moul Sidra grows a tree. The tree was dressed with all sorts of women’s clothing. I asked Brahim about this and I heard the same story I have been hearing all along. That local women believe that bathing at Jewish grave protects or heals and thus the clothing so close to the Moul Sidra.

We hoped back on Brahim’s back for a third time. Again we took an unfamiliar route. He drove me now to a third cemetery! He opened the gate, which was also decorated with Hannukiot using the same hammer method from the second cemetery. This cemetery was medium sized and again surrounded by mud-brick walls. The graves were laid out in three sections: Adults-children-adults from north to south. Many of the graves had been destroyed or desecrated and I couldn’t discern any Hebrew inscription until I arrived at the northern most spot in the cemetery. There almost every grave (maybe some 3 dozen) had a Hebrew inscription usually separated from the grave itself. In other cemeteries you saw these types of inscriptions but very rarely. These inscriptions were chiseled onto fairly flat stones and resembled some of the oldest graves I’d seen in Morocco such as the one I found in Ifrane. There was Yehuda ben Moshe, Avraham ben Massud, and so on. Completely legible and in perfect condition. It was a real treat and again made staying in Rachidia for the day very worth it. Brahim then took me to a river close to the cemetery. The waters were running rapidly due to the recent raining and flooding. It was a perfect way to end our journey.

He drove me back to his shop. There were a bunch of men there waiting to go to Friday prayer. They all greeted me warmly and wanted to know of I knew Shlomo or Isaac from Casablanca. Then they asked me if I know Chleuh. I told them “no” in Chleuh to which they all had a big laugh.

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