Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Monday, April 27, 2009
It was built in 1930. Here is the building from the outside (I will diagram this in the next couple days).
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
On Friday before heading out to interview Raphy, I stopped by a fantastic music store (for those in Casa, the store is located at 26 Lalla Yacout Street). Le Comptoire Marocain de Distribution de Disques carrys an extensive collection of Arab and Berber music in vinyl, cassette, and cd form from mostly the 1960s and 1970s. The music is hand picked and excellent quality. I picked up a few Berber LPs. These musicians were all from the Souss region and were masters or rwais of the rebab (spiked fidle). Interestingly, there were ahwash and rwais musicians amongst Chleuh speaking Jews (including from Ighil N'Oro - a picture of the Jewish cemetery there is at the top of the blog) who eventually imported this musical style to Israel, click here to read more.
There were about 30 people at my Mimouna celebration - mostly Muslims who had come to help celebrate. One of my favorite parts of the evening was the storytelling and joketelling. For nearly an hour, individuals jumped at the opportunity to tell joke after joke after joke. And each one was a raging success. Uproarious laughter punctuated the end of every joke. Some jokes were about Moroccans and their peculiarities. Others were about Muslims and Jews. The Muslim-Jewish jokes were obviously of particular interest to me. Those jokes (or at least the ones I understood) were more self-depricating than I had anticipated and actually poked more fun at the Muslim community than the Jewish community. It was a fascinating exchange.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
The owner of the cafe took an interest in me. He wouldn't believe that I wasn't actually Moroccan.
Where had you wanted to go? He asked.
To Debdou. I said.
Ah, it's so beautiful there. Surrounded by trees and isolated.
Great. I thought.
He jumped on my computer and pulled up wikimapia. I was stunned that this was the first resource he used but considering Moroccan proliferation for that website I shouldn't have been surprised.
Here is where it happened - my earlier post on wikimapia as a resource for discovering Moroccan Jewish history was suddenly right before my eyes. Here in the internet cafes of Guercif and similar small cities young Moroccans were marking space - both Muslim and Jewish. It was fascinating to see it up close.
The internet connection proved too slow to fully utilize the wonders of wikimapia (or anything else) and so I paid and headed for the train.
I decided to make the most of my last day in Guercif and head back to the "Jewish" cemetery. Something about yesterday didn't totally convince me that it was in fact a Jewish cemetery. It looked like one but I wouldn't be content unless I went it back.
I found it easily this time and stood opposite that hole I had earlier described for some time. The cemetery is opposite a high school and there were far too many people out for me to casually crawl under an artifical hole in the wall of a cemetery. I waited until most people and most students had cleared out. Just as I was about to make my way for the hole, 5 or 6 students climbed under.
I decided to follow them in. I headed towards the cemetery ducked and put one hand down to the dirt and pulled myself through. There were the students sitting on what used to be the entrance to the cemetery and they had now spotted their uninvited guest.
Is this a Jewish cemetery?
No it's a Christian (Nasara) cemetery.
Are you sure? I was told it was the Jewish cemetery.
They said it was both. I didn't believe them. They wanted to know where I was from and what I was doing there. I asked them why they had snuck into the cemetery. To smoke, they said. Seemed very American although we would probably sneak into a high school bathroom or a park before a cemetery.
We went around surveying the cemetery. The tombs from a far looked very similar to tombs in Jewish cemeteries throughout the country although this was indeed a Christian cemetery. The boys made sure that we looked at every tomb just to be sure. I was sure. It is an interesting find nonetheless and should be the subject of another trip. One tomb, a Christian one, was even inscribed in Arabic. But the Jewish cemetery had eluded me and I headed to the train station.
Monday, April 13, 2009
I would say one could easily skip Guercif. Not much to keep you here.
I learned more about these women throughout our meal. One had been to Israel before but for some reason has decided to stay here in Morocco. I told them that my mother had thanked them for being so warm to me and that got them really excited. We ended our meal and they asked me to take about 4 pounds of truffles back with me to some mutual friends in Casa. I of course obliged and have now added truffles stuffed in matzah boxes to my previously light load.
One of my favorite parts of the night was when they asked me to be extra safe walking back to my hotel which was just a couple hundred feet from their house. I told them I would be fine but they insisted on protecting me. So as I exited the house two old women in bath robes and slippers walked me most of the way to my hotel. We look like an army I told them and all we were missing was a rolling pin.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
The house I am in looks large. There is space. I am seated in the living room. The woman I am speaking to is fascinating. Her family is originally from Figuig, the oasis town of 200k palm trees about 7 hours south of here. The cemeteries are destroyed she says but I have seen at least one picture that makes me believe there are at least some tombstones untouched. Her family used to travel to Algeria she tells me. They would visit Oran. The Grand Synagogue there (which I will link to shortly) has been turned into a mosque (true). She was last there about 15 years ago. She knew all the important centers of Jewish life in Algeria. I asked her if she knew Ghardaia in the Mzab. She definitely knew it. In fact come to think of it the syangogue in Oujda and Ghardaia have many similarities including the stained glass. The syangogue is abandoned but still stands I told her.
She began to set the table carefully placing plate upon bowl upon plate and then finishing off with a checkered red and white cloth napkin. We sat – 3 Jewish women – and me. Round matzah filled the table. We spoke about everything from Israel to food prices in America. They wanted me to tell them how much I made in the US and if I liked Obama. We ate salads, meatballs, telfas (a Passover quiche), lamb and peas. Needless to say – everything was delicious. We finished our meal with fruit, tea, and coffee. I went to bid them farewell and they asked me to come again for dinner.
I cant wait.
Who am I? I thought. How would I explain that I wanted to see the synagogue because I wanted to see the synagogue? That I hoped to help restore it.
The synagogue in question is known as the Grand Synagogue. It was the pride of Oujda Jewish community and supposedly could accomodate some 700 worshippers.
I told her who I was as best I could. Hag Sameah I said to her. I told her who I knew as best I could. Baruch hashem I said after another remark. I was sure I would be kicked to the curb but I wasnt. She told me that khubz (bread) was haram (forbidden) during Passover. Of course I said. I had matzah in my hotel. She invited me in for coffee and matzah.
After some conversation and vetting from her and a second Jewish woman they agreed to show me the synagogue. Wow.
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.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
That is Meir. He is a fortune teller in the Ourika Valley. (I had heard of Meir before – he uses Talmudic and Kabbalistic texts to tell fortunes). Meir very much looked the part.
That man there is restoring the cemetery in Skoura.
That is the Rabbi and that is another.
We found my hotel and I received a warm embrace from the proprieter of the hotel who remembered me from my last stay. We had lunch at an old favorite of mine and then headed to the corniche by the Hassan II mosque for some beaufitful views and much needed rest.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
This is a photograph taken last year. It is the same building, the same syangogue. It still stands and the door is locked. The star of David has been removed but its outline remains. If you look closely the street number remains the same.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
By moving your mouse over a city you begin to learn a great deal thanks to the work of these volunteers. In the near future I plan to embed more of that information here so that you can discover for yourself at home and so that you can get an insight into my preparation when searching for sites.
- Celebrating Passover
- Interviewing Raphael El Maleh for upcoming project
- Re-discovering historical Jewish sites in the East (Oujda area) including:
- Locating specific sites like synagogues and cemeteries
- Evaluating conditions of sites in order to determine whether they are good candidates for restoration
- Providing practical information to potential visitors on how they can access these sites