Re-post due to incorrect download of a photo
33rd day of the Omer – Hod sh’b’Hod: Humility in Humility
I’ve loved every place we’ve been a bit more than I’ve loved the place before. It’s not just a case of “love the one you’re with,” but also the way our leaders built the trip, so that everything led us to the highlight city of Marrakech, which is incredibly cosmopolitan, trendy, yet also very ethnic because of the Berber influence here.
Last night we went to Bet-El Synagogue in the modern part of the city. Moroccan Jewry has its own liturgical customs and nusach (melody) which was fascinating to witness and listen to. They chant Song of Songs every Friday night, which is a Sephardic and Middle Eastern custom, and there was a sharing of leadership of the chanting among different members of the congregation, not just the chazan/cantor. After the service, we went to the cantor/chazan’s home for a Shabbat meal. He and his wife apparently open their home up every Friday night to guests. There was another Israeli contingent of about 25 people, our large group, as well as a smaller table of young Americans.
This morning we decided, however, not to attend a Moroccan service but to have our own little Shabbat service at the hotel. One Israeli woman who was staying at the hotel joined us, and when I read Torah, and then translated it, she cried, which was very moving for us all: And I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid (Leviticus 26:6).
Our touring today was a bit inconsistent with my ideal Shabbat practice of keeping Shabbat as a day of rest, but when in Marrakesh, do what the other rabbis are doing…We visited the Saadian Tombs, built in the 16th century as a mausoleum to bury many Saadian rulers. We also visited the Dar Si Said Museum of Moroccan Arts. Then we went to Majorelle Garden, the beautiful garden created by the orientalist painter Jacaques Majorelle, as well as the Berber museum built there in 2011. Fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge acquired and restored the property after Majorelle’s death, and the Love Gallery features some of Yves Saint Laurent’s yearly new year’s card paintings.
This afternoon I walked back to the hotel by myself from the Medina, about a 25-minute walk, and fell in love with the city even more because I felt so incredibly safe here to do that. I took a lovely Shabbat afternoon swim in one of the hotel’s two gorgeous pools, competing for lounge space with a European jet-set kind of crowd. This hotel, by the way (the Sofitel, where we’ve stayed in each of the cities this week), functions as Marrakesh’s museum of contemporary Morocco art, some of which is quite surprising.
There is also the wall of photos of the rich and famous who have stayed here, including Martin Scorcese, Susan Sarandon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Julia Roberts, and lots of etc., etc. This evening we made havdalah, separating the holiness of Shabbat time back to secular time, had a farewell circle with the group in which we all shared about our experiences of the week, thanked our guides and each other for sharing in this enriching experience, and went for an spectacular farewell dinner at Dar Moha Restaurant, offering a modern interpretation of traditional Moroccan cuisine.
A great miracle happened here in that I was successful in repacking my suitcase to fit all of the wonderful memories I am taking back with me tomorrow to the United States — examples of Moroccan traditional arts, Berber herbal concoctions, gifts for my nieces and nephews, and additions to my hamsa collection.
A piece of advice: If you are planning a trip to Paris, I invite you to consider Morocco instead. You can speak French here, it feels French in so many ways, and it is so much less expensive!
If you are NOT planning a trip to Paris, I still invite you to consider Morocco. It is a remarkable place, so rich in history, culture, and beauty. Additionally, after Israel, this feels like a must-do trip for Jews. Seddik, our Muslim guide, told us today that when he does his tours for the general public (not specifically Jewish groups doing a Jewish heritage tour as we were), Jewish sites and history are very integrated into the tour because they are so central to the history of Morocco. We have seen that demonstrated in so many ways while here — for instance, even today both the Dar Si Said Museum and the Berber museums which we visited today had Judaica displays (many Jews also lived in the mountainous regions and were influenced by the Berbers).
It also explains something which surprised me in my pre-trip readings about Morocco, a number of novels and memoirs about Morocco: Jews came up somehow or other in each of these books while neither the author nor the main characters were Jewish: these included Paul Bowles’ The Spider’s House, Shah Tahir’s In the Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca, Tahar Ben Jelloun’s The Sand Child, and Fatima Mernissi’s Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood.
Though we leave early in the morning for the airport, this will not be my last post about this trip. First of all, I accidentally erased everything I wrote about our day yesterday and will have to recreate it when I get home. Secondly, there is still much for me to assimilate and write about — including Moroccan superstitions (for instance, djinns are taken very seriously here — as in “genies”), Moroccan food, and various other topics.
I am sorry we will not be here tomorrow on Lag B’Omer, the 33rd of the Omer. In Israel a pilgrimage is made to the grave of Shimon bar Yochai on this day, which is his yahrzeit (anniversary of his death) and a day of celebration (yom hillula). It is believed that he revealed mystical secrets on the day of his death. Here in Morocco, pilgrimages will be made to the local tzaddikim (holy people) instead, but it would have been very interesting to be in one of the Jewish cemeteries tomorrow to see that. We have asked the Jews we’ve met here to tell us who their tzaddik is, and they’ve each had one.