Come wiz me….
Quick; what’s the capital of Morocco? Answer: a number of different cities at different times, but these days it’s Rabat. That’s why the place is crawling with police, military types of all descriptions, palace guards, you name it, not just around the royal palaces and the mausoleum (see photograph in earlier post), but everywhere in the city. Talk about feeling well-protected.
Our bus was wandering through the streets of the city when I did a double-take. I was somewhat worn out from our trip, but was I seeing things? Was it a mirage; had our driver made a wrong turn and we were back in Jerusalem on Rehov Yaffa? There, coming around the bend, was the Light Rail. The cars look the same, the stations look the same. Maybe there’s some rational explanation for this apparent optical illusion; maybe it’s just the same company at work? (Thanks to Dr. Google, I have been able to confirm that the cars were indeed all made by the same company, Alstom, a French multi-national concern. There are lots of these cars in lots of cities around the world.) It seems that the Moroccan government has plans to expand the light rail in Rabat. Our government has plans to expand the light rail in Jerusalem. We’ll see who gets done first, and I know who it won’t be.
Before we went on the trip, Barbara asked our neighbors if they would please take in our newspapers while we were gone. When Margolit learned where we were headed, she mentioned that they had been there and remembered one evening when they had dinner in someone’s apartment. That had to have been in Rabat, and the ‘someone’ must have been Madame benLulu, one of the three remaining Jews in that city’s melach. And so, weary as we all were, we boarded our bus to pay a visit to her home. Off the bus and through the arched entrance in the large, imposing wall that surrounded the melach, down a few streets, up several flights of stairs, and there we were: an apartment of about six rooms, each one set up to seat six to ten people for dinner. And there was Madame benLulu, who, with an Arab woman to help her, prepared our dinner. That’s how she supported herself, preparing meals for large groups, and that’s how it’s possible for Jewish tourists to be comfortable in Rabat.
The next morning, we headed back to the melach to visit the synagogue, which, as you would expect, is no longer in use and is opened only for tourists by the self-appointed caretaker.
A number of us needed to use ‘the facilities.’ (You should know that my self-assigned role on this trip was to be the one to go up to Cindy and tell her it was time for a pit stop.) Where to go? Back to Madame benLulu’s apartment; only now it was no longer a restaurant. The tables had been put away, and the normal furniture you’d find in an apartment – beds, chairs, dressers – had been returned to their normal positions. All this work to feed us, but, hey, it’s a way to make an honest living as the only Jew on the block.
(Before we get back on the bus to sight-see through Rabat, I should introduce our bus driver, Said. Over the course of the next week, as he drove us hither and yon through the Moroccan landscape, we began to appreciate his skill as a driver. His tour bus, new as it was, had one disturbing idiosyncrasy: it was divided into two climate zones. No matter how he tinkered with the controls, the front half of the bus was always freezing cold, while the back half was always more-than-toasty, causing no end of bickering amongst this otherwise amicable group. To make certain that every time we stopped and got back on board everyone was with us, each of us was assigned a number (Barbara was 12; I was 13), which we were to yell out in turn. It never went as smoothly as it should: there was always somebody who wasn’t paying attention or whispered so nobody else could hear. But every time we finally got to 37, Said would shout out ’38!’, and everyone would applaud. Maybe you had to be there….)
After visiting the mausoleum and the palace, it was off to the casbah. Come wiz me to the Casbah (a famous line that Charles Boyer never uttered – like Play it again, Sam, which Humphrey Bogart never said).
In real life, a casbah is not some mysterious place filled with desperate characters, alluring women, smoke-filled nightclubs, and exotic music. A casbah is basically a part of a city enclosed by a wall. Today, that’s where people live. I guess you could call The Old City in Jerusalem a casbah. Or else a medina.
Somewhere along the way, Cindy located a local guide who took us around, through and down this picturesque section
(I was taking my photographs all the way, chided all the way by Sheila Baumann, the AACI person, not to stray from the group and get lost.) When we got the bottom, we stopped at a place where we were treated to some Moroccan tea.
(This is what I don’t understand: when you’re in Morocco and you ask for mint tea, it’s a big deal. There’s a whole ethos to it, similar to a tea ceremony in Japan. You heat the tea pot, put in the correct proportion of Chinese green tea and mint leaves, pour in some boiling hot water, swish it around, let the mixture steep for several minutes, and pour. Drink it straight or add sugar, and you’ve got something.
With all the Moroccans in Israel, you’d think they would have brought this procedure with them, but no. Ask for mint tea here, they’ll stick a pathetic sprig of mint in a glass of hot water. If you inquire, where’s the tea?, they’ll add an el cheapo Wissotsky tea bag to this tepid mixture and expect you to be thrilled. O tempora o mores.)
Time to move on, through a lovely garden, where some of us stopped to converse with a young Scandinavian woman who was there to provide succor to some of the local cats.
Back on the bus, do a head count, and proceed to our next scheduled stop, the city of Meknès.
The Last Jews in Town
It looks like a happening place, Meknés, that is. Thousands of people at some kind of festival, as we’re driving by. I must of mis-heard. I thought it was the king’s birthday, but as far as I can tell, thanks to Dr. Google, it’s the Prophet’s birthday, as celebrated in Morocco. That’s why everyone is out and about.
We have one important stop, again a synagogue no longer in use, a testimony to a community that is no longer there. We had hoped to meet the caretaker, who might let us in. He wasn’t around, but there was one other Jew who was there. This pathetic fellow, probably the worse for drink, looking for a handout, giving a ‘blessing’ to Cindy.
That’s all that remains of Yiddishkeit in what was once ‘a lively Jewish center.’ Sadly, that description applies to many once-thriving communities in Galut. Come to think of it, that’s what you could say about The Bronx, where I spent many a happy day of my ‘youth.’ O tempora o mores, is right.