Jewish Maghrib Jukebox

Friday, November 7, 2008

Tahala Mellah

After leaving the cemetery I struggled to find anyone in town. I asked a storekeeper where the mellah was and he gave me vague directions. I asked another woman but somewhere between her Arabic, Chleuh (local Berber language), and my Arabic we both burst into laughter at not being able to understand the other. Finally she motioned to two men who spoke much clearer Arabic and helped me to find what I was looking for. Excitingly I identified that indeed the map that identified Tahala as being somewhere close to Fes was incorrect. This was the same Tahala that I had photographs of and it was nowhere near Fes. I also identified the same home that had been photographed and the entrance to the old synagogue (apparently a newer synagogue had been built in the 1940s). I followed that, along with the two men helping me, to what was once the synagogue. The roof was gone but there were four beams that once supported the roof and surrounded the bima in very good condition. Skylights/windows were built in just the right places to let light in to this synagogue that clearly never had or only very late received electricity. It was enjoyable walking with these two men who had now clearly become my friends and who were excited to show me Jewish Tahala. They showed me where the market was and where they used to make silver (they showed me how also but I didn’t quite understand that part). Then as if sensing I was hungry and thirsty invited me into their home for tea. It was so kind and although I had become accustomed to this sense of overwhelming hospitality over the last few days it was still unbelievable to me. They served me tea, water, and a bunch of sweets including amlou (almond mixed with locally produced argan oil), and pomegranate that they had picked shortly before meeting me. One of the men was an Arabic teacher in the local school. The other was a sommelier back in Tafraoute. He then started speaking all the Hebrew he had learned over the years from his Jewish and Israeli clients (Boker tov, laila tov, beseder, todah rabah). The sommelier told me how his father used to do business with the Jews and lease land to them. He withheld this information from me earlier or perhaps we hadn’t come to that part of the conversation but it both interesting and difficult to consider how much oral history is being lost. It seems that everywhere you go, everyone you encounter, has some story (overwhelmingly positive although I imagine these are the stories that people like to share with visiting Jews) involving the former Jewish residents of these communities. But this is another project in and of itself.

I thanked them and they helped me hail a taxi back to Tafraoute. I waited two hours in Tafraoute before we had enough passengers to warrant the trip back to Tiznit.

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