A small shul, a grand hotel, and lots to eat.
Our driver, Said, had gotten his bus to a spot across the street from the Radisson Blu Hotel, which is on Mohammed V Avenue in the fancy-shmancy, well-to-do part of Marrakech. (A location in the newly built Carré Eden complex gives easy access to the complex’s internationally recognized stores and restaurants as well as to trendy nightlife nearby…) All he had to do now was somehow go around the block, finding a way to get us in front of the hotel, so we wouldn’t have to cross this busy thoroughfare lugging our suitcases. Easier said than done. He tried several different ways, but each time he wound up back in the same spot, opposite the hotel. There was only one thing to do: make a U-turn in the middle of the block, a highly dubious maneuver that would run one afoul of the law in other circumstances.
If our previous hotel had been kind of iffy, The Radisson Blue was more than spiffy (I just thought of that!) Our room was about a ten minute walk from the elevator, but once we opened the door and looked in… Oh my! I could get used to staying in a place like that, in the lap of luxury, with not a care in the world. Good thing too, because we would be there for three nights, and who wants to spend three nights in a dump? It was also within reasonable walking distance of the synagogue we would be praying over Shabbat and the hotel where we would be eating. Whoever planned this gets two thumbs up from yours truly.
After drying out from a morning in the rain, resting from our journey, and making whatever pre-Shabbat preparations we chose to make, our group – with one of the locals walking with us to make sure we didn’t get lost in an unfamiliar city – headed off down the street, making a right turn, and shortly thereafter a left turn. And there we were, at the small synagogue, still in use (still in use!) – at least on Shabbat and also Monday and Thursday mornings when the Torah traditionally is read. (Is there anything sadder than a shul without a congregation; no one to talk to and disturb the guy sitting on the other side of you who’s trying to pray; no one to correct the non-existent errors of the non-existent Torah reader; no one to complain to about the quality of the non-existent kiddush. How depressing is that?)
The synagogue is in a small gated compound with a booth for a security person on one side of the entrance. You could easily not notice it – unlike the security arrangements for the synagogues in the European synagogues I’ve visited, where it’s like going into an airport, or the big synagogue in Mumbai/Bombay, where the Army personnel might outnumber the worshippers.
At first, there weren’t that many men inside. (the only women present Fri. night, were those in our group.) But, as in most synagogues, additional men started to drift in – some most likely from far away – until the place was reasonably crowded. As I suspected, a good number of the men there were tourists, there for Shabbat – an occurrence repeated throughout the year with each newly arriving group of visitors.
One of the guys drifting in was Jackie Kadoch, the lay leader of the shul and of the community, who sort of runs things. The sad truth is that if he weren’t there (and his children live in Israel), the shul would cease to function, becoming one more tourist attraction, one more stop on the whirl-wind tour of once lively, now defunct synagogues, an expedition that would go to every continent except Antarctica.
The reason that I can state with some certainty that at least half of the daveners at the synagogue were tourists was because we kept running into them at the hotel where we had our meals.
Introducing Freddie Kadoch, Jackie’s wife. (No, it’s not a same-sex couple; her name happens to be Freddie.) In addition to running tour groups in Morocco, she functions as a kosher caterer, working out of a hotel within walking distance of the synagogue and the luxury accommodations where we were staying. That Shabbat, there were four different groups eating at the hotel, probably about 150 people. Cindy (our tour guide; remember her?) told us that the last time she was in Marrakech there were eleven different groups there. Maybe the weather was better, and some of them were dining al fresco by the pool or on the roof.
Because Cindy is such an especially important person, we had the honor of having Jackie share our table for the evening meal. His English is quite good, and he was more than willing to speak to us and answer questions, including the following: Are there schools for Jewish children? His body language and his anguished expression gave away his answer. Exactly what Jewish children are we contemplating in your question, which only proves that you have somehow missed the focus of your stay here in Morocco the last several days? (That’s not exactly his response, but you get the idea.) Jewish children are as rare as porcine creatures in this neck of the woods.
There was another question, asked of all of us back home several months before, that Barbara and I somehow managed to miss, to our chagrin. In the original application that we filled out to join the tiyul, there was apparently a place to list any dietary restrictions, issues, considerations, etc. Barbara – who filled out the application – might have mentioned our various food sensitivities, for example, that both of us are more or less lactose intolerant (I’m just plain intolerant!). And she could have put down: my hubby, whom I love dearly, doesn’t eat mammal meat. I do; but he doesn’t. She could have mentioned that, but she had too much on her plate that day, what with trying to line up speakers every week for her seniors group, so she didn’t.
I should mention an interesting factoid. Centuries ago, the powers-that-were in the Moroccan Rabbinate (if I have the story straight) made a decision to the following effect: We are not Hungarians; we do not have to adopt their stringencies about the kashrut of meat. Good old-fashioned kosher meat is acceptable in these parts. So to this day, you can get kosher meat in Morocco – there is still a functioning rabbinate – but no Glatt kosher.
Most of our group was content with accepting the kashrut of the Moroccan Rabbinate, but a few people insisted on Glatt. Those folks were served chicken instead of beef. I innocently inquired if I could get some chicken as well, since I don’t consume beef. Did you mention that in advance, inquired Sheila, our resident den mother? Well then, no chicken for you! No problem. There was enough other food to feed a platoon of vegetarians with lots of left-overs. So there was nothing to beef about. (Shabbat lunch and third meal, fish and chicken. Life is good.)
The plan for Shabbat morning was that the first group (the let’s-get-to-shul-on-time group) would assemble in the hotel lobby in time to arrive at the synagogue at 8:30. A second group (the we’ll-get-there-when-we-get-there contingent) would arrive sometime around 10. The third group (the let’s-at-least-be-on-time-for-lunch coterie) would go straight to the other hotel.
I elected to join the first group, which I came to realize was not a smart move. One of our group came later, about 10 – just in time for the main part of the service. What would take twenty-five minutes in our slow-as-molasses minyan back in Ma’ale Adumim took an hour and a half in this run-of-the-mill minyan in Morocco. What takes them so long? The Sephardim add stuff that we don’t say. Why, I don’t know, but they do. Maybe they have more time on their hands. So we prayed, and then we ate, and then we prayed, and then we ate. And somewhere in the middle, I took a nap. Come to think of it, that’s what I do on Shabbat back home in The Land.
(No photographs. Shabbat, you know)