Jewish Maghrib Jukebox

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rissani Part II – November 9

I woke up early on Sunday and headed straight for the Jewish cemeteries. There was an old one and a new one adjacent to each other. The older one was in a significant state of decay although there were still two graves with Hebrew on them (although this looked as though it was added at a much later date). The conditions in Rissani are extreme. The heat is impressive even in November and for sure some of the destruction was heat and sand related but there was clear evidence of human tampering (discarded hairbrushes and clothing and other signs). I photographed as much as I could and then moved past the cemetery to find the newer cemetery. The graves were evenly spaced and in unbelievable condition. There is no wall around the cemetery but apparently there is a guardian.

Rissani is an important city in modern Jewish history because it is this city that produced the Baba Sali whose pilgrimage in Israel attracts hundreds of thousands annually. I returned to the hotel and had a nice, long conversation with the owner’s brother who works at the hotel. The mellah was right behind the hotel and in fact his parents had bought the hotel’s land from Jews. A few years ago an acquaintance of his mother’s returned to Rissani and happened on the hotel. She asked my friend if he knew Zubeida and he said: Yes, this is my mother! The two reunited for the first time (something that seems strange/impossible but almost very common here).

One of the main reasons I had come to Rissani was that I had heard that there was a 700 year old synagogue right outside of Rissani. My new friend at the hotel hadn’t heard of the synagogue nor did he know that there was a mellah there but he suggested I rent a bike in order to properly explore. The first village was some 5 km away and I could easily complete the 25 km circuit in an afternoon with a bike. The villages were all mud-brick and set in a series of palmeries. It was officially a plan. I had a fried potato sandwich (which seems to be the specialty in Rissani) and was off on my bike which only had one defective break.

No comments: