Lots of walking to do in Marrakech – get your walking shoes ready! Marrakech’s theme is a dusty red, with shocks of blue sprinkled throughout. We had a tour guide meet us at our hotel, and he first taught us how to walk to the shul in the area, as it was erev Shabbos.
*Note – there is no eruv in the area, but there is a mikvah.* There are only a handful of frum Jewish couples in the area, maybe 3 or 4, but there was a nice turnout for davening on Shabbos. They are able to get kosher meat from Casablanca, and besides for Mrs. Ohayan, there is no way to get kosher meals otherwise. On Shabbos day, there is an option to walk an hour each way to the older shul in the Mellah. There is also a beautiful free garden (called CyberPark) in the area that is a good idea to save for Shabbos as well.
Anyways, back to erev Shabbos…
- We took a cab with our tour guide to the Mellah, which is around a 15 minutes drive from the Almas hotel. In the Mellah, we met Mr. Ohayon at his hardwood store to pay him for our Shabbos meals, and so that he would recognize us in shul to walk us to his house. We also met the other Jewish shop owners in the area, such as the barber, Gabriel, and the butcher (who is a descendant of the Baba Sali).
- Al Azama Synongogue – would be really difficult to find on your own, just a heads up. The actual building is from the 20th century, but the congregation is from around 1492. Only open for Shabbos day services, it is one of the last shuls left in Marrakech and was saved by Mr. Ohayon from destruction. When the community had died out with many elderly Jews unable to take care of themselves or relocate, Mr. Ohayon converted most of the synagogue into a nursing home like structure, to care of the elderly (you can still see numbered rooms with beds in them). Donation needed to enter during the week.
- Miaara Jewish cemetery (built in 1537) has an highly suggested entrance fee, in order to take care of the kevarim there. The cemetery was recently renovated (Mr. Ohayon spent hundreds of dollars per day from his own pocket for the repairs, as well as flying in experts from Israel in order that it be done properly), as the kevarim were overgrown with thorns and growth, and ruined as a result. Marrakech used to be a city with tens of thousands of Jews, which dramatically dropped to double digits when the state of Israel was instated.
This is an unusual cemetery, as there are separate sections for men, women, and children (there are unfortunately many children’s kevarim due to a plague of Typhus). The kivrei tzadikim are within mausoleums surrounding the perimeter of the cemetery, in order that their neshamos protect those that are buried there.
Main tzadikim to look for are R’ Chananya Hakohen (student of R’ Yosef Cairo), R’ Yitzchak Deloya, R’ Moshe Haliwa, r’ Avraham Abitbul, R’ Shlomo Amar, R’ David Hazan, and R’ Avraham Azoulay. Kivrei Kohanim are painted in blue when you first walk into the cemetery. T found a beautiful tefillah whose words are easy to understand and were super relate-able to us, so feel free to take a look and spread around.
- Bahia Palace (entrance free, cash only) – 19th century palace, where you can see a mix of architecture and well as classic Muslim architecture (e.g. Muslim gardens with four corners, in house mosque, courtyards for concubines). We went on a Friday, which means it was super crowded – Friday is the Islam’s day of rest, and schools often take trips and such on Friday’s, or people get together in their shops and share a warm couscous lunch with sheshpesh.
- We had our second official argan pitch, as well as two dollar neck massages. We learnt a lot about how Moroccan’s try to exclusively solve health issues naturally, and which products can be used for certain ailments.
- Hamin is a word that will often come up – culturally, Muslims go to a hamin once a week, which is a steam room where your entire body is exfoliated and cleaned. Even the poorest of the poor go to the hamin once a week, with many of them fueled by live fires.
- Marrakech was a great place to buy goods for a fair price, such as their famous tea shot cups, or cultural clothing. We loved buying from Aziz, he had a huge store with lots of different products to offer.
- Djemma El Fna – main square in the Mellah filled with lots of activity (think snake charmers, monkeys, henna, coffee, shops). Refer back to this post to see why henna here is dangerous, and what you are expected to pay to get pictures with the snakes/monkeys. It’s supposed to be more lively and chill at night, with acrobats and instruments, but not everyone felt comfortable going at night.
- Derb Manchoura synagogue, the modern shul in the main modern city, where we explained Jewish rituals to our tour guide. We all learned to much from each other, Mortada was such a great guide! He was also Chris Hemsworth’s bodyguard when filming the new MIB movie and an ex-boxer, so couldn’t have felt more extra safe.
- Got ready for Shabbos and went to shul – very special kabbalas Shabbos, and unique nusach. As there’s no eruv anyways, they have siddurim you can borrow there.
- From shul, Mr. Ohayon walked us to his house, where he was also hosting a group Alexander chasidish men who travel together, as well as the wonderful tour of people on JRoots. Top 5 Shabbos meals of all time! Everyone and everything about the experience was animate and real, and we were so excited to go again for lunch. (Also, Mrs. Ohayon is a SICKKKKK cook that words would not do her cooking justice).
- N + T went to the modern, closer by shul for Shabbos day, while R trekked the one hour walk each way. Both were special experiences! Shabbos lunch was filled with more Jews from all walks of life singing and giving divrei Torah together, and welcoming in Adar. We ended up going back to our hotel and catching up on sleep for most of the day, but there are plenty of free activities to do on Shabbos (ask Raphi Elmaleh what he recommends 🙂 Motzei Shabbos, we took a taxi to the La Mamounia hotel to go get drinks, but we ended up skipping the soda and exploring the grounds.
- Hired a driver to take us around the Atlas Mountains, which was about an hour drive from the main city. The Berbers live in there, and they are considered the first settlers of Morocco. As the some of the first settlers of Morocco, there are a group of Berber Jews, who no longer at this point in time live in the Atlas Mountains.
- We took camel rides around the beautiful mountainous scenery.
- Visited an authentic Berber house, where they served us tea. There is technically no price for this visit, but a donation is recommended. The people living in this area do live in poverty, so be prepared to have many people who are unfortunately begging for money.
- Argan oil pitch number a billion.
- Kever Sholom Ben-Hensch – 500 year old kever of the Chief Rabbi of Marrakesh. There are many legends surrounding this tomb, such as R’ Ben Hensch turning into a snake. The main idea was that the Rabbi was coming to Morocco to raise funds, and was unable to leave Morocco and ended up living out the rest of his days in this foreign land. One of the last Berber Jews, Hananiyah Alfassi, guarded this tomb for decades, and you will notice Alfassi’s wife’s kever as well within the building.
- Flight to Fes – it’s either an 8 hour drive or a 20 minute plane ride. Flights don’t leave every day to Fes though, so please check schedules in advance and plan accordingly. Also for a tiny airport, security took much longer than expected.
*** We didn’t get to see Jardin Majorelle (stunning botanical garden with entrance fee), or the El Badi palace, which are ruins of an old palace (we chose to see Bahia over this palace as there are many decorations and architecture to see an learn from).