Jewish Maghrib Jukebox

Friday, September 5, 2008

Beni Ahmed

Beni Ahmed or Beni Hmad as the locals call it was about an hour away by grand taxi. It was in a way the middle of nowhere on the road to Marrakech. Upon arrival we really had no idea where we were except that we were looking for a Jewish cemetery. I didn’t remember until I had arrived but Dad was actually 12 km from Beni Had and Beni Had also had a Jewish community. You see that pharmacy? It used to be a synagogue and there was the mellah and there is a cemetery 2 km from here. What about Dad? I asked. Dad is 12 km from here, he said, and it will cost you 40 dirhams. Do you know Shimon Peres (I wondered if they confused him with Amir Peretz)? We weren’t sure what to do as a number of men, young and old, gathered around us conjecturing about where sites of Jewish interest were located. Finally a taxi driver took charge and told us about Mustapha. Mustapha is a high school Arabic teacher who knows much about the town. He can tell you everything you need to know. Where is he? I asked. Right here, I’ll take you. He hustled us into his cab. How much? I asked. No charge, for free he said. He drove all of about 3 minutes up the street and started blowing his horn and yelling for Mustapha. I couldn’t tell what their relationship was. Finally a man stumbled outside half naked. It was Mustapha. He looked at us, the taxi driver told him our story, and he ran back inside. He came out later with a shirt on and invited us into his house. His wife served us tea and about 8 kids/neighbors/well-wishers came in to see the two Americans sitting in Mustapha’s living room. I told them I was here to discover the Jewish history of Beni Ahmed. They were very interested. Where was the synagogue? I asked. Right here, he said. His house and the adjacent house used to be one structure, a synagogue. I was totally taken aback. Where is everything? I asked. He didn’t know. They had totally renovated. He had lived there 30 years and never seen anything. He said the last of the Jews had left after 1967. He said he once saw the word yeled (child in Hebrew) written somewhere in the house. I wondered how he read Hebrew. They brought out so many sweets you wouldn’t believe it. We left and said our goodbyes.

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