Tufts Hillel - Morocco - Summer 2012

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Morocco: Post #6


Working at the cemetery

Sunday 4, June (a.k.a Shayna’s Birthday) began with our departure from Marrakesh. After a long nap on the bus, we arrived in Casablanca where we visited the only Jewish museum in the Arab world. Our amazing tour guide Rafi played a significant role in the unearthing of many of the artifacts we saw and the restoration of many important and historic Jewish sights throughout Morocco that were featured in the exhibits. We were really impressed with the wealth of information we found at the museum and easily could have spent much more time exploring the exhibits, but unfortunately we were on a tight schedule.

After leaving the museum, we visited the second high school in the Alliance school system, which has all Jewish students. We ate lunch and talked with the students in their canteen, although many of them didn’t speak English so well. With typical teenage attitudes, some of the students were engrossed in texting while one boy tried to convince Rachel to eat couscous with her hands. At first we were a bit frustrated with all this, but then we realized that we probably would have done the same thing if we were fourteen. Obviously, as cliché as it is kids all over the world really aren’t that different. On the other hand, these kids were more dedicated to Jewish custom than any of us ever were. The lengthy prayers recited daily after lunch really impressed us and we were again reminded of the strength of the Moroccan Jewish community, especially in Casablanca.

Shayna's birthday!

From the high school, we drove to El Jadida, a coastal port and resort town about an hour away from Casablanca, where we immediately began our work restoring a Jewish cemetery. Most of us had no idea what to expect from this experience, and we were put to work painting and patching the outer wall along with clearing a large pile of gravel and sanding the main door. Although most of us aren’t used to this type of manual labor, we enjoyed our experience and spent a large portion of the day singing and dancing to pass the time and keep our energy up. By the end of the day we had finished one side of the entire wall and felt quite accomplished. As always, our hard work ended with a cup of Moroccan tea along with homemade crepes and pastries baked that day by the sister of the cemetery’s guardian.

Sam doing service work at El Jadida Cemetery

We returned to the hotel excited to shower and clean the paint and cement off of our bodies. Despite the lack of water pressure, we pushed through and headed down to our group check-in by the hotel’s pool. Here, many of us discussed the physical work we had that completed that day in comparison to the previous work we’d been doing, which involved mainly unseen products in the form of social connections and learning. After we struggled with this idea, we headed in for a dinner of warm soup and bread, fish, and of course, birthday cake!!! Over the day, we had tried to sing happy birthday to Shayna in the six languages that our groups can speak (English, Spanish, French, Hebrew, Arabic, and Russian), and completed this task after dinner. Thanks to Simone, who picked out the dessert, the cake was absolutely delicious and despite being full from a great dinner, we ate it all anyway.

After a long day, many of us didn’t have much energy left, but we all hung out together to celebrate Shayna’s birthday. After an hour or so we decided to retire to bed as we had a long day of work ahead of us tomorrow. I’m sure that we were all amazed that in one day we managed to tour three cities, renovate and entire wall, and still keep our spirits up. We certainly felt that we had left a mark with the work that we had done that day, and were excited to further continue our renovations on the cemetery the next morning.

Julie and Rachel

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Morocco: Post #5

The medina in Marrakech

Making our way through the Marrakech square to reach the medina was a challenge. Snake charmers, fortune tellers, and a slew of persistent salespeople all vied for our touristy attention. However, the expertise of our peerless and fearless guide, Rafi, led us in the right direction. The medina is essentially a covered market, housing a plethora of shops selling a variety of Moroccan goods.

Through a maze of alleyways, Rafi found a small staircase that took us into an air-conditioned room that felt alien to the midst of the commotion that is the medina. The walls were lined with jars of spices and other interesting unidentifiables – an apothecary.

the apothecary

The employees showed off an impressive array of spices, cosmetics, and home remedies, prompting most of the group to do a little shopping. We were then let loose for some free time to peruse the shops and test our bartering skills.

Backpacks full and pockets a few dirhams lighter, the group returned to our hotel for another reflection session. We opened by discussing our experience the previous day, when the Jewish woman in Marrakesh appeared to emotionally break down and urge Simone to do more for her. However, the group reached a consensus that the JDC, as a philanthropic organization with limited resources, is only responsible for providing for her necessities. Only a more proactive approach on her end to working with the organization could bring her happiness. This introduced a conversation about the larger issue of how a hypothetical Jewish philanthropic organization should go about ordering its priorities. We concluded by listening to Evan explain in detail the JDC’s opinion on the matter and the nature of its global operations.

Afterwards, we visited the house of Jamal, a friend of Rafi’s, for a cooking lesson and dinner.

At Jamal's home

Many of us were puzzled how an apparently ordinary friend was going to fit and feed all twenty of us in his house, but it turned out to be a veritable mansion. The meal (four courses, as always) was as delicious as the decorations were exquisite, and a good time was had by all.


Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Morocco: Post #4

Lunch in the Atlas Mountains

Though Shabbat was a day of rest, today was a day to connect to Morocco and its culture. We began the day by visiting the Jardin Majorelles, a beautiful garden designed by Jacques Majorelle at the beginning of the 20th century. In the gardens we saw beautiful Moroccan architecture surrounded by lush foliage. After that quick stop we headed out to the Atlas Mountains, to spend time in a Berber village.

Making tea at Berber village

The Berber people are native to the south of Morocco and greater Maghreb region, and significantly predate the Arab population. The village that we visited once had a Jewish population that was quite large, but all have now moved to other places. No visible sign remained to show that Jews had ever lived in this village. We sat and saw the process of making Moroccan mint tea; it is a much more intricate process than making any tea we have back home. On our way out we were hounded by men trying to sell myriad pieces of jewelry, daggers, and tzachkes.

After leaving the village, we visited a memorial for a Jewish Rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo bel Hassen.

At the rabbi's memorial

The memorial was built in 1976 following a donation from a woman whose wishes were granted after she visited the grave of the Rabbi. It was especially surprising for us that there was such reverence paid to this 14th century Rabbi – until only a few month ago a man lived in this memorial complex, taking care of it and allowing visitors to pay their respects. Visitors come often, on holidays, to ask the Rabbi for answers to their wishes. After placing candles in the chimney near his grave we headed back towards Marrakech, with a quick detour for a camel ride along the way.


Monday, June 4th, 2012

Morocco: Post #3

Before heading to Marrakech for a few days, we stopped by two schools that are part of the Alliance school system which operates four schools across Morocco. We first visited the Alliance Kindergarten, serving children ages 2 – 5. The oldest children welcomed us by singing a few songs in Hebrew.


Then, as a special treat, they sang a song we all knew very well and we were happy and we knew it! The adorable students played with us outside, showing us their playground and their strong muscles as they did push-ups. We each left the school with a rose for a happy Moroccan Mother’s Day (hi moms!) and headed to the Alliance Maimonides Secondary School, serving students 10 – 18.

The school is 60/% Muslim and 40% Jewish – very indicative of the religious tolerance we have found throughout our trip. A few students were gracious enough to speak with us (in their extremely impressive English) about their experiences. We asked what it is like attending school with students of different religious backgrounds: “Normal. It’s just normal.” was the response. The principal of the school echoed our thoughts: if only the whole world could emulate this mentality.

We had a three hour bus ride to Marrakesh, a vacation destination for Moroccans and tourists alike. As we approached the city, the entrance to the desert – we were greeted with the sights of camels, cacti, and berber villages.

Marrakesh has a population of about 3,000,000, approximately 200 of which are Jews.

Our first stop in Marrakech was a tour of the Jewish Quarters. We met an elderly Jewish woman who lives alone with the assistance of JDC. Her five children are all grown and abroad, while her husband is terminally ill and stays at the elderly home we visited in Casablanca. We were supposed to converse with her (with the help of our translators) and hear about Jewish life in Marrakech, but instead watched on as she divulged the reality of her situation to the translators in Arabic.

As she began to cry and lament her poor living conditions and loneliness, it was disheartening to realize that despite all of JDC’s hard work, its resources are limited, and some things like lonesomeness do not have easy solutions. While it was discouraging to see her struggles, it was a very eye-opening experience to understand the reality of Jewish life inside the Mellah, the Jewish quarter where only 4 Jews reside.

As we left her home, we realized that this experience was not so different from the American experience: elderly parents and grandparents, despite health needs and loneliness, are often resistant to leave their homes.

Finally we went to Shabbat services at Synagogue Beth El. All of the Jews in Morocco are Modern Orthodox, and Beth El was no exception. This meant that at all of the women were separated from the men, a new experience for many of us on the trip. Women participated in a side room that looked on to the main sanctuary. Perhaps for the girls especially, this experience caused mixed emotions and is something to think about both here in Morocco and when we get back home.  After the service, we joined the community president, his wife, and Jewish community members for dinner in the synagogue courtyard – a fantastic meal under the stars.

In true Moroccan fashion, we were served course after course – appetizers, fish entrée one, fish entrée two, chicken entrée, tea and dessert. We walked back to the hotel, taking in for the first time the busy Marrakech nightlife. Flashing lights, music, bars, and night clubs, adorned busy streets, and we joked that we were once again college freshman desperately searching for a party.

When we returned to the hotel, we celebrated Oneg Shabbat by relaxing poolside. We are so grateful for the hospitality of the Moroccan people. The room and board, not to mention the copious amount of food granted to us has made us feel like a welcome part of this Jewish community.

-Jon, Laurie, & Mollie


Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

Morocco Day #2

On our second day in Morocco, we visited Neve Shalom Ozar Hatorah, a Jewish primary school in Casablanca. The school staff and students were very excited to have us there. Throughout the course of the day, we got to visit and participate in their classes and activities, including Hebrew, French, Arabic, theater, geometry, sports, and arts.

It was especially meaningful to spend time in the computer class because before the trip we fundraised to buy computer operating systems for the school. We sold popcorn to Tufts students and their parents and raised a total of $650. We presented the check to the director of the school, who was very appreciative to both our group and the JDC for the support. We were very impressed with the quality of education, because the academics are at a much higher level than at most Moroccan schools. It was also great to see the enthusiasm of the students, who were engaged in their classes and were especially enthusiastic about singing songs.

The students’ smiling faces were gratitude enough, but on top of the fun day, Neve Shalom made us feel like royalty during lunch time. In traditional Arab custom, guests are shown respect by being presented with platter after platter of food. After we filled up on bread and salad and chicken the veggies came out. When we thought there could be no more food, out came the couscous and chick peas. Don’t forget about tea and dessert!

It seems like the Jewish schools are at the heart of Jewish life and identity in Morocco, as almost all Jewish children attend a school like this and receive a Jewish as well as academic education. JDC works with the community to make sure that this opportunity is accessible to everyone, subsidizing the tuition for families that can’t afford it.

The day was well spent, and we learned that playing with children requires no common language, just a willingness to connect.

We look forward to sharing the photos and stories with our friends and family at home.

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

Day 1 in Morocco

Singing and dancing with elderly at the JDC-supported home for the elderly

Hi everyone!

We are excited to be writing to you from our beautiful hotel in Casablanca! This post is about our first day in Morocco.

We were greeted at the airport by the wonderful JDC staff, and got started with our touring right away!

We began the day with a delicious breakfast at a café overlooking the Atlantic Ocean (#CasablancaShore).  We enjoyed authentic Moroccan tea, coffee, sugar cubes, croissants and kosher packaged cookies all together!  From breakfast, we walked over to the Mosque Hassan II, the third largest mosque in the world (after Mecca and Medina) and the largest in Morocco!

Mosque Hassan II

The mosque’s minaret, measuring at 200m is the highest in the world!  The stunning architecture included an intricately detailed ceiling that can open up to let the sunlight in, gorgeous chandeliers, and towering beams.  According to our guide (and Obama look-alike) the project, which was completed by the previous kingdom in only six years, cost over $800 million.

We were inspired to take artsy photographs (some were more talented than others) and consider how the ornate quality contributes to the prayer experience.  The mosque, which can hold over 100,000 people, is a striking example of the integral role of religion in Moroccan daily life.

After our wonderful tour and quick check in to the hotel, we enjoyed a three-course lunch at one of five private Jewish clubs in Casablanca.  The salads, grilled meats, and incredible desserts offered us a delicious introduction to Moroccan cuisine (even the vegetarians among us agreed!)

Though we were stuffed and extremely jet-lagged, we trekked on to visit some of the most important and valued Jewish health institutions of the community.

We were amazed to learn about the extent of services offered by JDC funding for free healthcare, welfare and social opportunities for the less privileged and elderly in the Jewish community.  We put up a mezuzah in a new apartment for an elderly Jewish man, we danced with residents of a local nursing home, we heard from the community caretakers at the Jewish health clinic, and several of us were even blessed by the community elders to be fortunate enough to raise our own Jewish families very soon.

Putting up a mezzuzah at an apartment at the JDC-supported home for the elderly

After a short rest, we were joined by the US Consul General for dinner, and learned some more about the American-Morocco relationship.  Even though we have only been here for one day, it is already clear that the small Jewish community is extremely vibrant, close-knit and grateful for our being here with them.

Aurevoir for now!

Jordan Dashow and Shayna Schor

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Tufts Hillel Students – Bios and Hellos

We leave in less than a week! Get to know us before we blog from the Morocco.

Jon Arditti is a rising Junior from Stamford, CT, and he’s majoring in Cognitive and Brain Sciences. He is most excited to interact with people from a culture so different from his own, and for the meals that end with a cup of green tea and mint!



Becky Allen: I am a rising junior majoring in Religion with a focus on conflict resolution. I hope to pursue a career working towards the goals of inclusive security and building a just and sustainable peace in the Middle East. I was born and raised in Roslyn, New York, about 30 minutes from the city. However, I love traveling and I am super excited to visit Morocco! I have had a bit of an obsession with Morocco for quite some time now as it combines much about which I am passionate: French language and culture, Middle Eastern culture, and even Jewish culture! I am most looking forward to exploring the way in which these cultures interact while engaging in hands-on service work.

Rachel Clarke is a rising sophomore at Tufts University.  Originally from Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, a small town outside of Philadelphia, she is thinking about majoring in political science and minoring in communications and media studies, although she has not declared yet. Rachel cannot wait to go to Morocco and is most excited to experience the culture and meet new people.

Jordan Dashow is a rising Junior, double majoring in International Relations (with a concentration in the Middle East) and Political Science. Even though he is from the best state in the USA, New York (specifically Long Island, New York), Jordan is excited to get off the East Coast and travel to Morocco at the beginning of this summer. He can’t wait to learn about the Jewish communities in Morocco, engage in meaningful service, and get to know his fellow Tufts students even better! In addition, Jordan is looking forward to spending 10 days with Alyza Weinberg and is hoping to perfect his “Alyza face” by the end of the trip.

Sara Eisemann is from Manchester, VT. She graduated on May 20 with the Class of 2012 and now has a B.A. in international relations! With this degree, it is unsurprising that she is most excited to travel to a new country and experience its culture, forming connections with the people there and learning about Moroccan Jewry firsthand. She is also excited to get to know her fellow trip participants better during the trip!


Hi, my name is Mollie Elkin and I am from the sunny Daytona Beach, FL. I am a rising junior at Tufts studying Child Development. I am excited for the opportunity to visit Morocco! I cannot wait to spend Shabbat with the Marrakesh Jewish community, volunteer in two schools (especially helping to teach a computer class to Moroccan students), and just getting time to explore!

Hi, I’m Emma Hershey and I’m a sophomore from Sherborn, MA.  I’m a math and computer science double major with a minor in music.  I can’t wait to work with kids at the Neve Shalom Ozar HaTorah School in Casablanca and experience Shabbat in Morocco!


Leah Lazer: I’m a sophomore from New Milford, CT majoring in Food System Studies. I am most excited to learn about how the lives and religious practices of Jews in Morocco have been influenced by Arab culture, and to make personal connections with members of the Jewish community there.


I am Andrew Lutz, a rising senior from Baltimore, MD. What I’m most excited for: I’m very excited to meet new people and learn from their culture. I’m very interested to see how Judaism fits into Moroccan culture and vice versa. And most of all, I’m looking forward to making lasting connections with the communities we visit!

Hi! My name is Julie Margolies and I’m a rising sophomore at Tufts.  I’m from Carlisle, MA and I’ve lived there all my life.  Although I haven’t declared a major, I’m planning on majoring in sociology and potentially double majoring in child development. In terms of the trip that we will be taking to Morocco, I think I’m most excited about meeting the kids at the schools we’re visiting. I’m really interested in education and I also just love talking to and interacting with people; the fact that these kids are close to our age will just make the experience more interesting and relatable. Overall, though, I really just can’t wait to take off and learn about the Jewish communities in Morocco in a way that will really let us experience their culture firsthand.

Rose Pollard is from State College, Pennsylvania. She is a rising junior majoring in International Relations and minoring in Music. She cannot wait to travel to Morocco and connect with people! She is psyched to get to experiences the communities there and learn about people’s lives, their pasts, their hopes, their families, their friends, and interests.

Hi everyone, my name is Ben Preis, and I just finished my freshman year! I’m from Pittsburgh, but since having started Tufts I love my new home. I’m planning on double majoring in Physics as well as Peace and Justice Studies. I’m extremely excited for this entire trip, but I especially look forward to meeting both Jewish and non-Jewish Moroccans. When traveling, I love interacting with the people who live there, and I hope to use this opportunity to the fullest extent.

Laurie Rabin is a junior majoring in Engineering Psychology and Child Development. She came to Tufts from Oceanside, New York. She is really excited about getting to see how the schools in Morocco are using computers in their classrooms and learning more about the country and the people we meet!

Shayna Schor hails from Millburn, NJ.  A rising junior majoring in Political Science, Shayna also serves as Co-President of LCS and staff writer for The Observer and TuftScope.  Besides turning 20 during the trip, Shayna is very excited to spend time with children at the local schools.

Elana Shapiro (’15) is an intended International Relations and Community Health double major from New York City. Elana is most excited about meeting the Moroccan people and learning more about their culture. She is also looking forward to working with children, trying Moroccan cuisine, and exploring Rabat.

Anna Simonovsky is a rising sophomore from New York City who has absolutely no idea what she wants to study and hopes she will figure it out by next year. She cannot wait for the trip to see Judaism practiced in a completely different manner.

Aliza Small is a rising sophomore from Deerfield, IL. Her major is most definitely undecided, though English and History are both in the running. She is minoring in Film. Aliza is excited to see the architecture of the major Moroccan cities and engage with Jewish residents in rural areas, learning about their daily lives.
Hi, I’m Seth Teleky, soon to be a Senior (first time i’ve said that, sounds so scary) My major is Political Science and History. I’m from Bayside, New York. What I’m most excited for: Getting to meet the locals and experience what life is like for them!



I am Sam Tye, and I am a junior from Newton, Mass. I am majoring in Community Health and Psychology. I am most excited to go on this trip because after meeting Jews from all over the country when arriving at Tufts, I would love to meet Jews from other places in the world. I can’t wait to meet and spend time with the Jewish community in Morocco.

Alyza Weinberg, Program Associate, is responsible for supervising our student board and student executives. Alyza also plays a critical role in Hillel’s Alternative Spring Breaks. Alyza was born and raised in Canada and graduated from the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Before moving to Boston, Alyza participated in AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps and worked at a public charter high school in inner-city Washington, DC.

Lia Weintraub is a rising junior at Tufts, majoring in International Relations and Spanish.  She is from West Hartford, Connecticut.  She is most excited to come on this trip to learn about Jewish traditions in different parts of the world, experience a new place and culture, and have an amazing time with the Tufts group!

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Morocco next week!

More to come from us soon.