Oh give me a home where the Jews used to roam…….
The brochure said we would be traveling by jeep ‘to the Ourika Valley, set in the beautiful Atlas Mountains.’ Whoa, boy; get a grip! We’re going to the valley in the mountains? And we’re going by jeep? Looks to me more like a caravan of SUV’s waiting in front of our hotel. I appreciate the fact that we’re going to places that would be difficult for a tour bus to navigate, but we’re not exactly going off-road.
We were in fact going to the tomb of the famous Rabbi Salomon Bel Hench. Or was it the famous tomb of Rabbi Salomon Bel Hench? Either way, who was this guy who’s so famous?
Turns out he was a visiting rabbi, who died on that spot some 500 years ago, and his gravesite (in a compound) is being cared for by the last Berber Jew in the area. Worshipping at the graves of my ancestors or anybody else’s ancestors is not what I’m about, and besides, I can’t really wander about in there anyway. I’ll give this attraction a pass.
We had made one stop along the way, to the home of a Berber family – a rather large Berber family, because we were told that twenty people lived in the one house. There I could wander around freely to my heart’s content; no dead bodies anywhere. The building does not have central heating, but it does have electricity and running water – plus a resident cow, who lives on the premises. (Also a chicken.) For the price of admission (obviously, the family received some remuneration for hosting us), we were treated to some Moroccan tea, made with love by the family matriarch. (It’s a good thing I like tea!)
Speaking of Berbers… As we sat on the bus the last few days, looking out the window at the unfamiliar landscape, we could see the small towns and villages along the way. What was puzzling were the number of seeming ghost towns that we passed. Were the buildings empty because the towns had fallen on hard times, or were they just being built?
The story we were given (and I can’t confirm that it’s true) is that the construction is for the Berbers; that they are to be moved out of sub-standard housing up in the mountains into something better. Remember: it’s good to be the king; there won’t be much of a fuss. I thought about what’s going on here in The Land. The government is trying to relocate Bedouins, who are living in shacks on public land, into something more suitable, and look at the furor it is causing. We’re being accused of war crimes by the snot-noses in the E.U, along with some of our own know-it-alls. Bibi may think he’s king, but he ain’t.
That was just the morning. We had to get back to Marrrakech because all we had seen in this ‘Pearl of the South’ so far were the few blocks between our hotel, the beit knesset, and the hotel where we were dining. Now we were off to the melach (remember, the accent is on the ACH), with a rather tall local guide to direct us. Number 33, that’s Isaac’s little store, where he sells, how to describe it, small bits of hardware. Isaac, whom we recognized from the Shabbat minyan, is the only Jewish storekeeper left in the former Jewish quarter. The only Jewish storekeeper left. Isaac is reluctant to say much about his distinction; some of us understand his reluctance.
There’s another synagogue in Marrakech, this one in the melach. I guess this is the shul that Isaac doesn’t daven in, even though it’s close to his little shop.
This one is also still in use, although nothing like what it used to be. There are a number of rooms on the second level; classrooms, no doubt, once filled with students. It’s quite possible that the grandchildren of someone who studied there is living in my new home town in The Land. And speaking of bygone days……. Marakesh also has a Jewish cemetery, filled with the graves of the famous and the not-so-famous – another place for me to sit out-of-the-way while the group wandered around. I don’t see the attraction, but then I’m part of the priestly class and wouldn’t understand.
If it’s good to be the king, it’s almost as good to work for the king. Our guide escorts us through the melach and beyond, and at some point, we were walking down a street with a large wall on the right side. What’s behind that wall, I wondered? I would soon find out. We were headed into the Bahia Palace, built in the 19th century by someone who was the chamberlain to the sultan. If you’re going to loot the royal treasury to build yourself a palace, it should at least look nice when you’re done. Maybe the architect knew about the Alhambra in Granada (which Barbara and I got to visit some thirty plus years ago), or there was simply a tradition for him to follow, but he did himself and his employer proud. I can’t describe this place; you’d have to see it for yourself. Just say that it’s very large and very opulent, with quarters for the chamberlain’s favorite wives. It’s good to be the king. It good to work for the king. It’s good to be a favorite wife of someone who works for the king…….
There were still a few more hours of daylight left. Some of our group was intent on shopping in the shuk until the very last ray of sunlight. A few of us went to a pharmacy where we expected an introduction to Berber medicine because why not. Instead we got a sales pitch about some of their products. Actually, we know about argan oil (native to Morocco, but now grown in Israel), so we did buy a few things, more so that Cindy wouldn’t look foolish than anything else.
Back to our hotel, or rather….. Lots of shops in the complex around the Radisson Blu. Now that it had stopped raining, the weather was delightful. How about sitting in an outdoor café and having a cup of coffee? Then a quick circle around the indoor mall. It would soon be time for dinner at the same place: catering by Freddie Kadoch. It would be our last night at this wonderful hotel. We would need a good night’s rest, for in the morning we would be off to Casablanca. Maybe we would get to see Rick’s café…..