Hats Off to Fes

Such regrets about not being able to spend more time in Fes – there’s so much to see there in terms of culture and history. We flew in from the Marrakesh airport, and was picked up by our driver, Hisham, who also bought us water bottles before touring the old town with our guide, Jamal. They are the dream team! Jamal is also married to a girl from Wisconsin, so he’s got the American mentality down to a science – big fans. First, we took a tour of the Medina of Fez, where no cars are allowed (or can even fit). There are many twists and turns, and really only a local would be able to get you around the area easily. There are a lot of goods to buy that are unique to Fez, such as stitch work, carpets, and leather (you can have a personalized leather jacket made for you within two hours, and delivered to your hotel). Our favorite part was meeting Ahmed at the leather market, who is featured in this Nas Daily video. They also hand you mint to smell while at the leather market, because it’s a little smelly (it really wasn’t bad in the winter though).

We were able to visit the University of Al Quaraouiyine (the worlds first university, founded by a Muslim female), which is a university where the Rambam was a professor; It is in Fes where the Rambam wrote the Mishne Torah. Currently a mosque as well, we were not able to enter the gates, and had to view from a distance.

IMG_7173

We didn’t realize our hotel was within the Medina, and had to walk there with our suitcases – our concierge met us and walked with us. It was definitely quite the cultural experience staying in the Medina, and was pretty beautiful, old-school, and slightly scary. We didn’t really have blankets, or WiFi, or doors to the bathroom… but we had La Briute meals! We also didn’t realize our hotel was cash only, and we had to walk to an ATM before we left. The pictures speak for themselves.

The next morning, Jamal met us and we continued to tour the Mellah (the first in Morocco). Heads up, we looked a little disheveled because we didn’t have warm enough pajamas or a warm enough hotel for the winter. We first visited the Rambam’s house (now recently a Chinese restaurant), which also has a water clock he invented which cannot be repaired because scientists are unable to figure out how it works in order to restore it.

The Jewish cemetery has a small entrance fee, and includes the kever of Solica, who was a Jewish girl who refused to convert to Islam when the governor of Tangier wanted to marry her, as well as Rabbi Vidal Hasarfati. The golden gates to the kings palace are nearby, as well as many gates to the city.

The ancient Jewish homes in the area really stand out due to their architecture looking more Spanish/Portuguese, with balconies facing the street. We visited the Ibn Danon shul (descendants of the Rambam), which also had a small entrance fee – take note of the mikveh, which has a viewing area from the middle of the floor of the shul.

It was time to say goodbye to Jamal, as Hisham was going to take us on day long drive to Chefchaoun and then to Tangier. Hisham first took us to a beautiful lookout of  the city called Borj Sud, an artisan house where we took a tour of how they create pottery and mosaics, as well as a stop on the highway that was just really pretty. We ate lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches along the way, as well as Stella D’Oro cookies and Dipsey Doodles (couldn’t leave Hisham hanging, we made sure to keep his American food culture top notch). It wouldn’t be a trip without being pulled over, naturally.

When we got to Chefchaoun, Hisham quickly got us a tour guide, which we were so grateful for because once again, no cars and very narrow random streets. *Note* Chefchaoun is kindav in the middle of nowhere, and was a little bit out of the way – driver most probably needed to get there. We first hiked up to the Spanish mosque, and walked around the town, which is painted completely blue (one reason they believe it to be blue is that it was a Jewish town and they used the color to create a distinction between them and the surrounding towns). It was really beautiful and unique! It happened to be raining, so it put a little damper on the photo shoot opportunities. Also, don’t forget to visit the ancient entrance to the blue city.

 

Hisham then continued to drive us to Tangier, where we would be sleeping for the night. It was really interesting to see how much we had in common with the people of Morocco, and how respectful we are of each other. As the sun was beginning to set, Hisham turned to us and asked if we needed to stop and pray – how cool is that?? Around shkiyah time, we heard a loud Arabic call coming from Hishams phone, and we noticed he began cleaning his face as he was driving… it was also his time to pray! We asked if he wanted to pull over, but he just prayed and drove. Muslim’s need a call to prayer before they pray, so Hisham has an app that automatically goes off at the times of prayer, and then he can begin to pray. Long story short, Tangier is quite interesting at night, and he got us safely to our hotel, also in the old city in Tangier.

IMG_7245

 

Top Four (Week of 11 Iyar)

1. Hillula!!!  

Lag Ba’Omer is coming at us real fast! Don’t miss out on the epic Lag Ba’Omer Hillula, with R’ Moshe Weinberger and Eitan Katz. Hundreds if not over 1,000 people singing, dancing and connecting (very separate seating, of course).

WhatsApp Image 2019-05-14 at 10.33.13 PM

2. Shana Rishona/Relationship Podcast

In her podcast First Year Married, Kayla Levin does an excellent job discussing different aspects of shana rishona, giving practical advice that can really apply to any relationship. The episodes are short (usually around 20 minutes), and are relatable while staying true to her style. She also offers an online seminar with the curriculum she has created as a life coach, that is starting next week. Very refreshing, empowering and calming all at once – highly recommended.

1274829-1557283484534-3a13bdbbaab96

3. Mindfulness 

Rabbi Dr. Benji Epstein, camp HASC director of staff, has written a book, Living in the Presence, on Jewish thoughts within the parameters of mindfulness – the act of being fully present in a moment, without distraction. One parable came up that I found to be a life changing perspective on how to view avodas Hashem, I will insert a piece of it here (page 214):

[Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk and his brother, Zushe of Anipoli, found themselves in prison. R’ Zushe began to cry as it was almost time to daven, but was not able to due to excrement within the prison cell].

Rabbi Elimelech placed his hands on his brother’s shoulder and told him gently, “True, you cannot pray now because the law forbids it. But why weep? You know the same Gd who commanded you to pray also commanded you not to pray when the room is unfit for prayer. By not praying in this room, you have achieved a connection with Gd. While it might not be the connection that you had initially sought, if you truly want the Divine connection that you had initially sought, if you truly want the Divine connection, here is the opportunity that God had present for you at this moment to obey His law, no matter how it presents itself.”

BOOM. Mic drop.

Image result for living in the presence epstein

4. Peace out Girl Scout 

Last week was international Peace Week. As a result, the Girl Scouts in my school created inspirational posters, which are all super conveniently hung up outside of my office. This one really resonated with me:

Image result for mistakes are proof that you are trying

Kash Money Business

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.

MARRAKECH

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).

Shabbos

  • 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.

 

Sunday

  • 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).