Sunday, January 22, 2012

Shabbat in Marrakech

Shabbat in Marrakech was relaxing we davened and ate at the one local synagogue. Erev Shabbat we were waiting to be bused to the Shul, when ten horse pulled carriages rolled up to the curb. We traveled in style through the city, waving at the passing cars. Our carriage was the first, and it was quite a sight to turn around and see the convey of kivunim kids in their carriages behind us. Dinner and lunch were both cooked by the rabbis wife, and served in an outdoor tent in the chatzer of the Shul. It fascinated me when I looked at the top of the tent and noticed that the poll to which the tent was strung had a crescent moon on top of it- a symbol of Islam. I suppose that in a Muslim country one cannot escape the influence of Islam on Judaism. They are so similar and one is forced to admit that they each helped shape and mold the other.

The Shul itself was quite lovely. In the front was an Arron hakodesh made of cedar wood, carved with incredible deftness and intricacy. The Aaron adorned the entire front of the room and the rabbi in his welcoming speech to us explained it's story. The Aaron was originally in an older Shul within the melech. When all the Jews moved out of the inner city and when the French government permitted them to settle, they established a new synagoge. It was decided that the Aaron should be transported to the new synagoge, and the rabbi along with his father moved the Aaron piece by piece to the new building, along with the ancient Torah scrolls which were inside. That night the old abandoned synagoge burst into flames, yet thankfully the Aaron had already been safely moved to it's new home. People saw the coincidence and the miracle that the Aaron had been salvaged and began to wonder of it's whereabouts. It was discovered that the Aaron had been carved by two brothers, and had been donated to the Shul. Rumors went around that the old synagoge had a gzera on it that it would burn, however because the Aaron had been given so selflessly by the brothers, it had served to protect the synagoge. Once the Aaron was removed the synagoge alighted in flames, yet myth has it that something which is given with such love can never be destroyed, and hence the Aaron still exists in all it's glory till today.

Motzsash before making havdala we went to a Muslim families house, who every year hosts kivunim for a meal. The house was magnificent, with large rooms and high ceilings. Pink marble pillars supported the building, and decorative molding  hung from the ceiling like stalagmites in-between every room. ( rafi claimed they were a middle class income family who had inherited their gorgeaous home.) At their house we made havdala together, on orange juice instead of wine, as wine is not allowed in a Muslim household. That a Muslim family would invite a group of Jews into their house to perform a religious ritual which is foreign to them is really a bold action to be admired. We were given a cooking lesson by the wife and taught how to make a traditional chicken tajin,before being served a delicious meal complete with fruit pudding for desert. 

Morocco day 5

That morning we left for Marrakech the city where we were to spend Shabbat. Talking to the moroccans on our trip who lived in Marrakech, I was surprised to discover how much they loved their home, and how proud they were to show it to us. Thursday we were showed the melech- the old Jewish quarter, and went to see the ancient palace and harem. There was once 30,000 Jews in this city, now there are only 150,only six of which still reside in the melech. Thursday night and friday we went to shop and site see in the souk and the square. The sounds and sights of the square affront ones senses. Everywhere one turns there is a seller calling to enter his stores to see his wares or a women offering to decorate your hand with henna. As we passed through a man draped a snake around my neck, and another placed a monkey on my shoulder and before I could shake loose had him give me a hug. Crowds gathered around story tellers and snake chamers. At night electric toy helicopters flashed high in the air. Vendors sold fresh squeezed orange juice in glass cups, to be drank while standing next to their stall before returning the cups and continuing on ones way

The Berber village

That night we stayed at talouet- a Berber village high in the atlas mountains. About an hours ride from the village we transferred to cars and jeeps driven by the men of the village, as the bus could not make it down the rocky unpaved road. we sat crowded onto wooden benches as our jeep lurched around the curves, so close to the edge that I feared our car would skid and roll down the abyss. As we traveled i watched women washing laundry in the icy water flowing down the mountain, their hands probaly deeply worn and chapped as they laid the clothes to dry in the sun. We stayed at an old makeshift hotel in the village. The boys on mattresses in a large room, and the girls in smaller rooms upstairs. Peter told me a story on our ride up; Ali, the  owner of the hotel feels indebted to kivunim and in particular to Peter, as a few years ago Ali had cancer and Peter before leaving gave him a mishaberach. The next year the cancer was gone, and Ali attributes his recovery to the blessing Peter gave. Peter told me that the village has no imam, and due to this Peter in a way has become ali's spiritual leader.

Standing outside before dinner some children came up to me and started speaking rapidly. We ended up playing for over an hour, singing farijaka and ring around the rosy. Running till I was out of breath from one side of the hotel to the next. After adelicious meal of tajin, the village put on a concert for us.  All the women wore brightly colored cultural dresses and the men sat in the circle beating large leather drums. The woman sang and performed a dance, clapping their hands and walking in time to the beat. The children and us swayed and danced around them. We drank tea, and sat around the campfire talking and laughing with the berber man until long past the stars had risen. At one point I went to the roof and studied the sky, without light pollution it was so light it nearly blinded. We spent a frigid cold night in the village, shivering underneath our covers,till we were woken to the braying of a donkey in the early morning. Before we left I stood looking down at the village, it's flat mad roofs hazy through the smoke of cooking fires. I remembered Peter taking us up here the day before and telling us as we gazed out at the landscape that these people's lifestyle has been nearly unchanged for two thousand years. Imagine if I had not been born into my family and had instead been born in a village such as this.if I met myself would I recognize myself, or would ibe an entirely different person? I would have a different value system, perhaps I would be illiterate or be married already with children. Even at my core I would no longer be the same person, entirely changed, revolutionized, by the upbringing I had received.

Morocco day 4

Yesterday afternoon we stopped on our way to the hotel at a gorge. We stood in the center, the tall rock walls surrounding us reaching to touch the azure sky. A river ran through the center, cold clear water through which we could see the pebbles that carpeted the bottom. Absolutely idyllic, a place that reminded one just to stop if for only a mere second to breathe.

This morning we visited a melach. The last Jew left 16 years ago.  The melach was within a mud fortress, which historically was near the pasha's palace, so that the Jews could benefit from his protection. They sold here salt ( hence the name), silver and with their ingenuity invented a foot pedaled machine to weave with. We visited a store which still used the same process to create colorful blankets and tapestries. The store was in what had once been a Shul. Rafi described how the place had once looked like, a pointed out to us where the biymah and the Aaron hakodesh had been. Sad I think, that a place which had once been a house of worship had been converted into a store selling merchandise to tourists. Everything had been renovated. Not even a symbol remained to show what this place had once been.

For lunch we stopped by an abandoned Berber castilla- or fortress. Before being given a meal of bread and shukshukah we got the opportunity to explore. We crossed a muddy stream, balancing on sandbags, and climbed up the old fortress that sat on it's banks. From above the fertile land rested, spread out below, creating a contrast; the bright greenery, the dusty orange and the deep blue. On the horizon were the atlas mountains, their caps covered in snow. We stood in the glaring sunlight in short sleeves and looked at the snowy mountains that loomed above us

Morocco day 3

The hotel we stayed at last night was so amazing. In tombuktoe, (haha never thought I'd have the opportunity to say I've been in Timbuktu!) it was on the edge of the desert, and we all had to clamber on to jeeps for the last hour in order to reach it. Also once the palace of a pasha it's walls were created from a mixture of straw and mud. The beds were  covered with an brightly striped orange spread, and a rich blue canopy hung from the ceiling above it. Woven baskets strung from black cords added decoration and acted as a concealed for lightbulbs. Before going to bed (after a late dinner at close to 1am!) I walked up to the roof and studied for a while the stars, which hung so low that if you had wished you could have reached up and caught one. 

We woke this morning at 6am and staggered outside, to be greeted by the rising sun over the dunes of the sahara, and 70 camels, complacently waiting for their riders. Mine was named hadu, and in the chilly morning air (I  mean really bitterly cold), I watched the desert slowly paint itself deeper shades of orange. It was like being in a story book, and I don't think I would have even stopped to marvel if I had spotted the gene's lamp embedded in the dunes. After awhile we dismounted our camels, and climbed up to the the ridge of one of the dunes.  The sand was soft and fine and while climbing it felt as if one was going backwards rather than forwards. Stepping and sinking, I would watch as the sand cascaded around me, disturbed by my weight. feeling myself slip I would quickly step again and watch in dismay as I again felt myself sinking and the sand carrying me down rather than encouraging me in my journey up. Finnaly at the top, Shivering under the rays of the still cold sun I beat boxed with a Berber, and tumbled down the sand dunes with ahuvah. Rolling head over heels faster and faster till the horizon and the desert blurred and you came to a swift stop, covered in sand with the dizzying peal of laughter surrounding you, till you could once more see straight enough to crawl back up the dune. At one  point one of the Berber man who had lead the camels grabbed my ankle and started pulling me down the mountain. Looking up he gave a wicked grin and very seriously told me " Berber ski!"

After (an ice cold) shower, we got on the jeeps to depart from the hotel. Our driver would pause to let all the other jeeps go, before stepping on his gas pedal and taking shortcuts through the sand and stone, expertly guiding us through the treacherous landscape, to overtake the other drivers. We of course arrived first. After the jeep ride I asked our driver his name and about his family, and job. It's amazing the ways people have of communicating without sharing a verbal language. Though neither of us could speak the others language I learned that his name was uttmon, he had 5 children and he worked for the hotel taking American, Spanish and Japanese tour groups. It's interesting how essential body language is and how though we come from entirely different cultures, certain signals of the hand or body are universal.
We are now on a six hour bus ride back from the sahara. After the jeeps we stopped briefly at rabbi abuchatzara's tomb and a Jewish cemetery which was up kept by the Moroccan government, and was visited by both Israeli and Muslim pilgrimage groups, as it is believed that through the zuchut of the rabbi ones prayers could reach god.  Soon lunch :) 

Morocco day 2

This morning we went to the souk in taroudant. A typical middle eastern market place complete with a snake charmer and fried doughnuts which were hung on cords of green string.  We found this antique shop which was auctioning a talit and two safer Torah covers. It disturbed me a bit, the thought that something which was sacred to my religion was being sold in a Moroccan souk to the highest bidder. Afterwards we were told that these artifacts were most likely stolen and that to buy it- to redeem it in a sense- would simply encourage more theft from the still functioning synagoges in morocco. 

From the souk we traveled to a Berber village, it's streets made of only dirt and dust, adobe buildings sprawled throughout it's  small settlement in the middle of the inhospitable desert.  As we walked, children rode on bicycles besides us, and men, women and children stood at the entryways to their houses to see who these visitors were. Rafi our guide introduced us to an old Berber man and explained to us that when he had come to this village some years ago he had seen this man in a cafe shop and asked him if he know of any Jews who had lived here. The man answered Rafi by producing a key and asking him why it had taken him 45 years to return. This key, which we were shown-made of wood with two knowbs protruding to fit the holes in the door, was the key to the synagoge. Recently thanks to kivunim funds and Rafi's efforts the synagoge had been restored. The synagoge was small, will a mikvah adjacent to it in an even smaller room next door. On the walls of the synagoge were the words mizrach and marav in Hebrew, and an inscription that read "ani ldodi vdodi li". The ark was still there- a small wooden one, decorated with intricate patterns and bright colors. We were told that this Shul was over 850 yrs old. The man was elderly and couldn't remember much about the Jews who had left the village when he was age 15 and had entrusted him with the key. In past years on kivunim visits he had been able to recall Moroccan melodies for shalom eleycham, now however he only repeated a few Hebrew phrases and greetings he remembered overhearing over 50 years ago. Incredible, that something which to us was history, a people that lived here long before I was even a thought was ingrained in this mans mind. As we filed out the small building the man said he remembered a musical instrument the Jews used to play. He took hallel's saxophone and began to trumpet upon it. Though i didn't see the player of the instrument I did here the cacophonous sounds echoing of the walls of the dirt building and wondered why hallel had decided we all deserved headaches. Only after was I told that what had reverberated through the room was the sound of the old Berber man mimicking the shofar's sound of "'truahhh".

Before we left we had a plaque hung. This plaque had all our names, and the names of past kivunim students written on it, and explained that this synagoge had been restored with the help of kivunim. It then wrote that the Shul restoration had been completed in honor of the elderly Berber man, a righteous gentile, who had taken upon himself to preserve a heritage which was not his, displaying the relationship that had existed between Jews and moroccans throughout history.

After visiting the synagoge we had a lunch of shashukah and bread at the Berber mans house, before climbing back on board our buses to begin our ten hour trek to the Sahara desert. Arab hospitality is astounding. Though I am sure he was payed for the meal he provided, he welcomed over 60 strangers who spoke a langage he didnt understand into his home. The girls were even allowed to meet the women of the household and get a tour of their kitchen and rooftop. What a pity that in America the idea of true hospitality is one that is foreign to us, and welcoming someone into ones home is considered a charity rather then a responsibility. 

Morocco day 1

On the bus again.. We landed in morocco yesterday morning and headed straight on a bus for an eight hr ride to palais  salaam a hotel which had once been a palace outside the old city walls.  As we traveled, through bleary jet lag eyes I looked out onto the landscape. What a beautiful country, I can easily understand how one could fall deeply and inexplicably in love with it. I was surprised when we landed to see the flat lush plains and discover the bright hues of green covering the land. After Israel I somehow expected a similar countryside. Yet here everything seemed to be growing before our very gaze. As we began to drive I witnessed the landscape transform. The greenery gave way to a more rocky hillside, and as we drove upwards the mountains loomed in front of us their tops capped with snow.

When we finally arrived at our 'palace' we were given a delicious dinner, though we had to be careful not to eat any fruits or vegetables that were uncooked. Similarly when brushing our teeth we could only use bottled water, the tap water has microorganisms which could make us sick. In the morning when I woke I was amazed by the bright colors of the place. To imagine at this had once been someone's home..... The windows were blue which contrasted with the browish orange of the walls. The shape of the windows, the shape of the gates where contoured in such a way as to mirror what I thought of as the  classic style of a mosque. The architecture was so different from that which I was used to and so strangely beautiful. As if thought had been put into every entryway. It wasn't merely a gate it was also a way of art. A form of expression. Picture a guest entering the palace, and the impression that even the gate must have created.