Visiting Morocco leaves one with both a sense of hope and of despair. The sense of despair does not refer to the decline of Jewish community, which at approximately 3,000 souls, totals some 1% of its pre-1948 numbers.
The city of Marrakech was, for many years, home to the largest Jewish population in Morocco. Today it has two functioning shuls: one in the mella, the old Jewish quarter, which at one time housed some 40,000 Jews; and the other some four miles away in the “new city”, where most of the Jews moved after 1956 when Morocco gained its independence from France.
“Eizo asheer? Hasameach bechelko, Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot”. It is often hard for many of us raised in the affluence of the West to appreciate the beauty of a simple way of life, devoid of all the modern conveniences we take for granted—and can't live without. A visit to a Berber village can help with some perspective.
Outside of the world of the yeshiva, it’s a safe bet to assume that most who study Talmud do so as part of the Daf Yomi cycle. This innovation of Rav Meir Shapiro was special not only because Jews around the world study the same page of Talmud every day, but because Jews around the world would study Talmud at all.
“With fidelity to its irreversible choice to construct a democratic State of Law, the Kingdom of Morocco…having as its bases the principles of participation, of pluralism and of good governance. It develops a society of solidarity where all enjoy security, liberty, equality of opportunities, of respect for their dignity and for social justice…
As I sit on the plane, having just spent ten glorious days in Greece, let me share some final thoughts of our wonderful trip. Greece is a country rooted in history, it is the cradle of Western civilization and, not at all coincidentally, it is one of the first places the Jews settled after the destruction of the first Temple.
Something that one might be fairly certain will never appear in a shul, no matter where it is or what the denomination, is a cross. Well, almost nowhere. Visitors to the shul in Chalkis—on the beautiful (there are few other words that so accurately describe much of Greece) island of Evio—can see not one, but two crosses on the walls of the shul.
As one enters the beautiful Yad Lezikaron shul in Salonica, one notices plaques on the wall. But unlike in most shuls, these are not yahrzeit plaques—or, as we have seen elsewhere in Greece, names of victims of the Holocaust. These plaques list names and dates of the shuls established in Salonika over the last 2,000 years. The first name on the list is Ets haChaim, established in the first century.
One of the beautiful experiences in travelling around the Jewish world is seeing the richness and diversity of Jewish life. I imagine not many on this list have ever heard laining in the Romaniote (Greek) tradition. Its beautiful tune is similar to, but also distinct from, other Sephardic traditions. The sefer Torah we used was borrowed from the Kahal Kadosh Yashan of Ioannina, the largest shul in Greece.
“Ma rabu ma’asecha Hashem, how beautiful are Your creations, G-d!” After travelling in Greece for a couple of days, one understands that the Greek emphasis on beauty is not coincidental; the land itself is one of great natural beauty. Mountains, rivers, lush greenery and more entice the eye. There is much to attract one to Greece, and with our trip focused on Jewish history, we will not even be including the famously lovely Greek islands on our itinerary.