Jewish Maghrib Jukebox

Monday, September 1, 2008


Asilah is an Atlantic beach town 3.5 hours north of Rabat. We took the bus to get there. We had planned on just a nice getaway weekend. I had read online that there was a Jewish cemetery there and seen quite an abstract picture and imagined something like the cemetery I had seen in Chefchaouen, graves but no inscriptions and all in all hard to know what you are looking at unless you know what you are looking at. On Saturday we did all manners of sightseeing apart from anything Jewish. It was Shabbat and I myself wanted to rest. The next morning we checked out of our hotel. There was a map at the front desk. It showed the city and a beach called Paradise about 3 km south of town. Near that beach, according to the map, there was also a Jewish cemetery. We set out looking for Paradise and on our way stumbled onto the Jewish cemetery. I recognized a structure on it from the abstract photo I saw online. A woman was exciting the cemetery and I asked her if I could enter. No problem she said. I entered and was totally amazed by what I saw. The cemetery sat right on the beach. There were three walls surrounding it and where the fourth wall would stand only stood an unbelievable view. Wow, I thought. I looked to the left and there were between 100 and 150 tombs, many of which were perfectly preserved. It was an amazing sight. There was the grave of Zahara Levy and there was the grave of Levy Roif (perhaps a converso) who lived to be 110 years old. Many graves were laid with marble, others had been destroyed and it looked like much marble had been pilfered. There was also a geniza perfectly intact and three sides of a structure that could have been at one point a synagogue or perhaps something more recent. I can’t totally describe it but it felt just amazing to find this place. There looked to have been at least one Tzaddik buried there and it looked like perhaps people had visited recently. We left the cemetery and headed towards Paradise.

We never found it of course. We settled on another beach and then headed to town for lunch. After lunch I went looking for the mellah. After inquiring to the oldest men in town I found a shop that had a number of Judaica pieces in the window. The shopkeeper told me that there was no mellah in town but the equivalent was Sharia Itijaraa (or Commerce Street), which we were on. Around the bend was a former synagogue, 25 meters or so from his shop. Above the synagogue I would see a Star of David. A left turn and 25 meters later I saw it. It was a structure that was completely boarded up. No key would have let me in, as I would have needed to break down the structure in front of the door in order to enter. There was a wrought iron piece above the door and above that a tilted Star of David. It was difficult to ascertain whether this was actually a synagogue or a building that happened to have a 6 pointed star above it (the 6 pointed star is a Middle Eastern symbol). I was mostly satisfied with what I thought might be a synagogue but considering the size of the cemetery thought there had to be more than this one building.

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