We arrived to Fès which is North of Casablanca at night. The Hanair Hotel sits on hill and we could see the whole city from our room.
Today, the Jewish population is small but when you visit the cemetery you find graves of tzadikim from the 18th century and a royal blue building marks the grave of Soulela, a young girl with whom the prince fell in love. The king, at that time, decreed that all Jews had to convert to Islam, and many did…. but Soulela refused. The legend tells that they dragged Soulela around the city and left her head on a stick. Her remains are buried here. She is a symbol of the strong Jewish identity and the pride the Jews in Morocco have to their believes. [Some would argue that Soulela’s behaviour contrasts favourably with that of Maimonides, who as a young man in Fès reportedly converted to Islam see here – ed] As we saw in Essaouira the graves are painted white. The name of the cemetery is “Beit HaChaim” which translates as “The House of the Living”. There is a strong belief in Morocco in praying at the graves of the tzadikim, scholars, and asking for a blessing.
Next to the Mellah ( Jewish quarter) is the King’s palace. We tried to take a photo of the guards but were chased by the palace guards who demanded that we delete them. The artwork on the palace gates is typical of Moroccan intricate carving. Fès is know for its artists. We visited a pottery factory and watched the potter literally grow a tagine dish and of course had to shop, for some to bring home.
The medina is the largest in the country. We walked through the narrow alleys and through the shouk, shopping for carpets and leather goods. It was exhausting. When you buy any item at the shouk the haggling starts, it is a ritual that left us tired.
We left Fès and rode the bus to Rabat, the capital. We had a “date” with a Colonial Major and Mr. David Toledano, the head of the Jewish community in Rabat to lay a wreath at the tomb of King Muhammad the V and King Hassan the II. After laying the wreath, the Rabbi said El Moleh Rachamim and the colonel thanked us for coming. King Muhammad the V protected the Jews from the Vichy government during World War II [see here] and that was our way of saying thanks.
Lunch was held at Mr. Toledano’s home and Mr. André Azoulay who is the advisor to the king joined us. This is a Muslim country and although the Jewish population feels comfortable, it is important to know the King. Mr. Azoulay talked about the Israeli dignitaries who visited Morocco and about his desire to help negotiate peace in Israel. There used to be an Israeli embassy in Morocco but it closed when the Intifada started. Today Israelis need a visa to visit Morocco, many come on a “Roots trip” to look for their ancestors graves and homes. Mr. Toledano’s home is in an area called Sale where the we saw the American embassy and others. Also in attendance was the US Deputy Chief of Mission Matthew Lussenhop and Kyle Spector, Foreign Service Officer.
In the afternoon I decided to check the newly built Contemporary Museum. It has a nice exhibit of Morocco Now art since the 195’s. As we were planning to visit the Moroccan Biennale in Marrakech, it was a good preview.
On the way back to the hotel we passed the Palestinian Embassy which brought to mind the reality, as comfortable as we feel now it can all change in a heartbeat..