28 May 2009

Morocco: A Jewish oasis

Walter Ruby has a fascinating inside look at Morocco in New York's Jewish Week, which also showed his photographs. Ruby and his fiance visited during Passover.
The Moroccan idyll I shared with my fiance Tatyana began with a Passover evening service at the ornate Neveh Shalom Synagogue in the heart of Casablanca’s Jewish Quarter — an upscale French-flavored district in this mostly modern city where 3,500 Jews live among a much larger number of Muslims — and a sumptuous seder at the well-appointed apartment of prominent community member Sammy Ifergan, his wife Natalie and their two charming teenage daughters.

The elegant century-old synagogue was packed with about 200 worshippers, many of them members of the worldwide Moroccan Jewish diaspora of up to one million, stretching from Jerusalem to Paris, Montreal and Caracas. Then Tanya and I experienced our very first Sephardic seder, with Ifergan performing fascinating rituals like holding a platter of matzah over the heads of family members and guests, while intoning, “You were once slaves in Egypt, but now you are free.”
Among Moroccan Jews, bitter herbs aren't bitter but are a celery-like plant (the Persians also use celery!). Ifergan says in the story, “Maybe because our 2,000-year exile in Morocco hasn’t been as bitter as some others."

Their seder dinner included charoset of dates and figs, soup with ful, salads, lamb with truffle mushrooms, homemade pareve ice cream and more.

The history of the Moroccan Jews is more than 2,000 years old, before the Arabs arrived in the 8th century CE. The original inhabitants of Morocco include the Berber tribes, some of whom converted to Judaism centuries ago. There are shrines to Jewish-Berber holy men like the 14th-century sage Shlomo Bel-Hench.

Moroccan Jews today include descendants of both Berbers and Spanish Jews who arrived in 1492.
The sprawling souk within the walled city of Marrakesh is a vast, pulsating marketplace where every product ever conjured by humankind seems to be on sale; including carpets, metalwork, pottery, jewelry and exotic herbs and spices. Visitors can watch robed and turbaned tradesmen plying timeless crafts including leather working, cloth dying and slipper-making. Adjoining Jemaa-el-Fna Square, with its snake charmers, fire-eaters, and fortune tellers, has an almost hallucinatory quality at sunset, with storks flying eerily overhead.
The couple also visited the seaside town of Essaouira, where Jews were the majority until the 1930s.

If you'd like to visit Morocco, the story includes websites and other resources.

Read the complete story at the link above.

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