Like Webster’s dictionary, we’re Morocco bound….. I’ve always loved that line and sing it with some frequency. It never occurred to me that it would apply to me: that Barbara, who loves to travel, and I, who could just as easily stay put, would join an A.A.C.I. excursion to that selfsame country. But that’s what happened. It was either a trip to Lapland or Morocco. (If you put it to me that way….)
There were definitely some positives to our choice – not just that it was better than going to Lapland or some such place. Sooner or later, I would need to visit some part of the real Arab world that isn’t Ramallah, and Morocco is definitely the friendliest and the safest such place to visit, besides being in its own right a beautiful country with a lush landscape, high mountains, and the edges of the Sahara Desert (that we didn’t get to see). There has also been a Jewish presence there from way back, even if it’s merely a a tiny fraction of what it once was. And a lot of the Jews (or their descendants) who used to live in Marrakesh or Casablanca now live in our neck of the wood. If I said it once on the trip, I said it fifty times, there are more Moroccans in Ma’ale Adumim than there are back in their own back yard. Maybe I might learn something about their heritage, about which I knew nothing. So we went and have returned, happy on both accounts. What follows are some of my thoughts and some of the photographs I made on the way – in no particular order, just the way my mind works.
Where’s Yisrael Katz When We Don’t Need Him?
Bob Hope and Bing Crosby could ride their way to Morocco across the desert on a camel, singing all the way, but for us, it’s not so simple. We had to take a Turkish Airline flight (BTW, the kosher food that they serve is remarkably good.) due north to Istanbul (two hours) and then catch another flight (almost six hours) to an airport between Casablanca and Rabat. Our guide, Cindy Kline, made mention of something that would not have occurred to me. (Isn’t that what guides are for?) The airport in Istanbul was constructed in the 1960’s and is, shall we say, getting a little tatty around the edges. No worries! They finally built a new airport. And it opened officially on October 29. I know that for a fact because that’s what the magazine that they put in front of my seat says. They even had a full-scale opening ceremony with a panoply of officials like what’s-his name, Erdogan! Except it’s not really ready, with lots of labor issues, and it won’t be for months to come – so we landed both ways at the old airport! It’s amazing how badly people can screw things up. But what I can’t understand is how they did it without any help at all from OUR Minister of Transportation, Yisrael Katz, a world-class expert at not getting things done. I simply can’t figure out how it was possible. At any rate, from the time we left our apartment at 1:15 in the morning, until we arrived in Morocco – with the usual number of multiple security checks – was something like fourteen hours. Maybe we should have rented a camel.
Almost from the time that we and the Aarons arrived here in 2007, Ron and I (with a few others from time to time) began a project of going through Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, his attempt to create a Code of Jewish Law. We began at the beginning, but more recently, we have been skipping around – whatever Ron feels like tackling. Recently, we went through the section dealing with Laws of Kingship. Like a lot of things we study, there did not seem to be much in the way of practical application in this day and age. I mean, who do you know who’s got a king? I mean a real king, not the panty-waist monarchy they have in England, where the king or queen has no power. Well they do in Morocco, that’s who, the incumbent being Mohammed VI. And to make sure you don’t forget, his portrait is EVERYWHERE – even on the currency.
As monarchs go, he seems to be one of the better ones, ceding some of his authority to the prime minister and the legislature, enhancing the status of minority groups, having only one wife, and in general modernizing the country. Still, what he says most likely goes. With monarchs, that could be good or bad; it all depends on whose fanny is on the throne. Either way, if you want to get something done, it might be better to have one person making the decisions, instead of a bunch of people who are best at passing the buck. (Wherever would that happen?) Take, for example, the Hassan II mosque (Hassan II was the ruler in Morocco from 1961-1999 and wasn’t such a nice guy.) He decided, for better or worse, that Morocco needed a mega-mosque, and he was the guy to build it.
“I wish Casablanca to be endowed with a large, fine building of which it can be proud until the end of time … I want to build this mosque on the water, because God’s throne is on the water. Therefore, the faithful who go there to pray, to praise the creator on firm soil, can contemplate God’s sky and ocean.”
That was in 1980. They started building the thing in 1986, and, with dirhams being at a premium in that not-so-wealthy country, it took seven years to raise the money and get it completed – with crews working round the clock seven days a week – with all the interior decorations done on site. Take that, Yisrael Katz! The Moroccans built a gigantic mosque, one that can hold 20,000 men and 5,000 women, with room for 100,000 in the plaza outside, and it was completed in the amount of time you took, piddling around with a railroad line from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.
That’s just for starters. The self-same Hassan II built a mausoleum for his father, Mohammed V. Also pretty impressive. (The guy sitting in the lower right in the photograph is the on-duty Koran reader.) And then there are all the royal palaces spread out throughout the country, built by previous rulers. Every time they moved the capital, which has happened with some frequency, they needed a new palace. And what good is a palace without an impressive mosque and minaret? So, if nothing else, there’s lots of impressive structures for tourists to gawk at and take selfies with their smartphones.
(Just so you know: Until the French were kicked out in the 1950’s the Moroccan rulers were called ‘Sultan.’ After that, they decided that they would be called ‘King.’ Same guy; different title.)
Stay tuned for the second installment, with more of my brilliant insights and amazing photos.