It would have been easier to arrive by car but of course I didn’t have that luxury. Instead I took a grand taxi from Tiznit to Bou Izakern and from there another grand taxi to Ifrane. For some reason I keep on expecting there to be some sort of signage in these places but there never is. Ifrane of the Anti-Atlas is one of the earliest settled areas in Morocco. It also claims one of the oldest Jewish communities in Morocco. Some years ago the 1800-year-old synagogue was restored. All traditional building materials and methods were used. I must say that seeing that synagogue was definitely one my inspirations for coming to Morocco. I arrived in Ifrane to learn that the mellah was 3 kilometers further than where I had arrived. I had some walking to do. I decided to walk through the villages that line the dry riverbed and that are flanked by palm trees rather than follow the road. I crossed over from the road noticing the unique Berber cemeteries that are really a site to see (I promised I will post when I get back to the US and have a reliable internet connection). Walking through these small villages was definitely worth it. Time had really stopped here or at least appeared to and it was a wonderfully relaxing walk only interrupted by my stopping woman working the field or doing laundry to ask if I was headed in the right direction.
Finally, finally, I arrived at the mellah. I saw a construction site and asked the men there and the only ones I could see where the synagogue was. It was right next door. The guardian came and opened the door for me as his 10 year old son watched me take pictures of this beautiful synagogue. You could imagine men praying in here. You had to use your imagination but it was possible. It was mud brick with a skylight. Just enough light was let in to be perfect. Benches wrapped around the exterior of the interior and there it was in the middle of nowhere. I asked the son to take me to the cemetery that I knew was nearby (there are actually two but I only went to the adult cemetery). I didn’t expect to find anything knowing that some of the last tombstones with Hebrew inscriptions had been removed the Jewish museum in Casablanca. There was a mausoleum there and by the mausoleum I noticed a unique stone. I looked closer and asked my new friend to take a look as well. There was Hebrew on this stone. Who knows how old it is exactly but it was part of a 2000 year old community no matter how recent the inscription was. I put the stone in the mausoleum to protect it from the weather. The word SHNAT (as in Hebrew for year, as in the year of death) was visible. I headed back to the synagogue and the guardian started showing me what the construction was for. He was building an auberge, a guesthouse, next to the synagogue. He was going to call it “Auburge du Mellah.” I actually thought it was a great idea and told him to email me when it opens. I was cold and not feeling great however. I was sort of tired of talking and asked him if it was easy to get back to where I could pick up a grand taxi.
You’re not going to join us for lunch? He asked.
Sure. I said.
I was so hungry and tired and it was the perfectly placed invitation. He invited me into his home and put on a dvd for me. It was a Moroccan news story on the Jewish history of Ifrane of the anti-Atlas. His daughter then brought out a beautiful tagine for us. We all ate together: me, the guardian, his son, the construction workers, and one of their sons. It was a very fun and warm experience. We finished our tagine and in my mind I admitted to myself that it was good but I was still a little hungry. Then the daughter brought out a second tagine. I was very happy. We finished our meal with fresh pomegranates and thanked everyone for the meal. The guardian then handed me the Arabic language dvd on the Jewish history of his village. I couldn’t accept it but he told me I must and that he had a second copy. I was full and walked away with an amazing gift.
On my walk home I envisioned how special it would be to spend a night in the auberge with a group of young Jews. We could easily walk to that old, old synagogue and pray there once again. Hopefully this can be arranged in the near future.