Thursday, October 01, 2009

Rosh Hashana at the synagogue in Fez

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This piece in Magharebia reveals that the synagogue in Fez can barely muster a minyan (quorum) nowadays, and like many around the world, is unmarked for security reasons. At the Rosh Hashana service, a row erupts when non-Jewish visitors arrive. 'Mohammed' says he is sometimes harassed by fellow Muslims for visiting churches and synagogues - proof of the atmosphere of religious 'tolerance' in Morocco today.

"Jews in Fez now live in a newer neighbourhood and attend Synagogue Ben Saadoun, built in 1920. Invisible to the community, the synagogue is unmarked, with no sign or doorbell for visitors. But the innocuous exterior hides a breathtaking house of worship with intricate Moroccan carvings and hundreds of Jewish holy books.

"The Jewish New Year started at sundown on Friday. Just before it began, about 10 men gathered, enough for the minyan (quorum) required for communal prayer. A solitary woman and a child sat behind a curtain in the women's section, where they generally watch and follow along in the services, but do not participate.

"Normally there are about twice as many of us, but many choose to go on holiday during Ramadan," said Robert Serero, whose family has been in Morocco for more than 500 years, since Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain.

"It's sad how much the community here is shrinking, with everyone leaving," he said. "But this is my home, and I will never leave. They say we have problems here, but there are problems everywhere, and why trade one for another?"

"The men settled into a service, which alternated between personal prayer in Hebrew from the siddur (traditional prayer book) and group prayer led by Rabbi Albert Seddag. "We're offering blessings attesting to God's sovereignty, and giving thanks for the creation of the world," Sebbag said. Services early on Saturday morning followed the same format.

"As the prayers began, the men realised that they had non-Jewish Moroccans visiting. In hushed voices, some called for the visitors to leave, while some said that they should be allowed to stay. Near the end of the hour-long services, the discussion became heated and voices were raised.

"Outside the synagogue, one visitor, a student named Mohammed, said he was shaken by the experience. Mohammed said he often visits different religious communities in a personal search for truth. He said he is sometimes harassed by fellow Muslims, who call him a traitor, and for that reason did not want his last name published."

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