Oujda is the largest city in Eastern Morocco and sits directly across from Tlemcen and close to Oran in Algeria. The border has been closed for some years but you can imagine what the city was once like when Algerians and Moroccans passed back and forth – like they did historically. Most people I have spoken to on the subject have told me that the East is not as friendly as other parts of the country. Beyond a general unfriendliness they tell me, there is also lacking the nostalgia that other parts of the country have for their departed Jewish communities.
I had planned on waking up early and trying to first head for Djeradda and if that was impossible then to head to Berkane where there is a large Jewish cemetery: instead I slept in – it is my birthday today afterall – and I made the right decision. It has been raining all day and things have been moving very slowly. I decided to check out the Grande Synagogue during lunch. It is located only a few hundred meters from my hotel. I decided to eat at a restaurant next door to the synagogue and then to chat up someone at the restaurant in order to find out more about access. My hope was that with a wall in common perhaps there was a window that looked out into the synagogue or even a door that opened to the synagogue or perhaps a view from the roof – anything. It turns out I spoke to the wrong gentleman.
Is that a synagogue next door? I asked (I knew it was but just wanted to start the conversation) Yes but its closed.
Are you Muslim?
No, Im Jewish.
Why dont you convert?
Well, Im Jewish just like youre Muslim – everyone has their…
Religion (in unison)
Does anyone have a key?
Ok, thank you so much.
It turns out that there is a woman with a key. I hope to meet her on Sunday. Keys to an abandoned synagogue (one of the largest synagogues in Morocco) would be a wonderful belated bday gift.