Monday, June 4th, 2012...6:29 pm
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