From the Rabbi - August 2012 Print

Dear Members of CBI [written from Marrakesh, Morocco]:

My feet are killing me!  In the last several days, Phyllis and I have walked farther on difficult pavement than we dreamed possible – and in temperatures that often exceeded 110 degrees.  The medina of Fes was a particular challenge - winding warrens of alley-ways so narrow that two adults could hardly pass without brushing shoulders.  On either side of every passageway were stalls – some with “freshly” butchered meat (and even a camel’s head), others redolent with spices, still others overflowing with Chinese-made slippers and toys, plumbing equipment and frequent cafes with men drinking Moroccan sweet mint tea and paying cards or dominos.  There were several miles of these uneven pavements, and, by the time, hours later, we trudged up a long flight of unmatched stone steps, I was ready to bless our guide, Abd el Rahman, for extracting us from the maze.

Today is altogether different.  My feet have still not recovered. But the indignity of this incapacity is easier to bear because we now lodge in the Palmerie Golf Palace in Marrakesh, one of the most luxurious hotels I’ve ever visited.  Comfort cures a variety of indispositions!

One night, we attended Shabbat services at the old Orthodox synagogue in Casablanca.  Had there not been fifteen or twenty Reform rabbis from North America and a couple of Israeli visitors, they probably would not have had a minyan. In 1956 when Morocco gained its independence from France, there were about 350,000 Jews in the country.  Today, they estimate that only 5,000, 2500 in Casablanca and maybe 120-150 in Marrakesh that was formerly the home of tens of thousands.  After services, we were hosted in a Moroccan Jewish home.  They have nine married children, one in the US and eight in Israel.  If you add to the them many thousands who went to metropolitan France, you can have some idea of the present and future demise of this once-thriving Jewish community.  Were it not for regular subsidies from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee that provide medical care, housing for the elderly, education for the young and countless other vitally-necessary services, Jewish life in Morocco would be an even-more dire disaster.  (The JDC funds come from your contributions to the Corpus Christi Combined Jewish Appeal, so bear in mind the countless acts of mitzvah that your donations to our annual fund drive make possible.)

 As I sit here in this palatial, air-conditioned hotel, I try to imagine the contrast between Morocco and Corpus Christi.  A prophet of doom might say that both Jewish communities are fated for extinction as older people leave

or die and younger people relocate.  One could certainly look at the comparison that way.  On the other hand, you might think that the Jewish decline of Marrakesh and Fes and Casablanca is irreversible, while there is still hope for Corpus Christi.  That depends, almost entirely, on the growth of Corpus Christi as a whole.  When the tide of economic development rises,  as seems to be the present case, all boats rise, including the ships of the Jewish community.  And every time the nay-sayers of our city are permitted to block a legitimate development project, we take one step closer to a fate similar to the one that awaits the Jews of Morocco.

If you are concerned that our Jewish community not be consigned to “the dust bin of history”(Arnold Toynbee’s less-than-felicitous phrase), then support and elect candidates for public office who are pro-growth, keep the pressure on those who are in positions of authority constantly to be searching for new development opportunities, recruit new Jewish residents yourself (especially if you know people who could fill jobs in our city), be a positive representative of our city and its Jewish community, and, finally, get involved in projects of civic betterment.   A healthy, exciting community attracts new residents; some of them need to be Jews.  And they will be if you make it happen.

Tomorrow, we head back to Casablanca.  We had originally planned a meeting with the American ambassador (a Reform Jew from Minneapolis), but that session had to be cancelled. Then, Monday morning, we depart for home.  We’ll leave the physical place called Morocco behind, but the challenge of figuring out how Corpus Christi can avoid this Jewish community’s fate will remain ever-present in my mind.   To have a stimulus for my own thinking – and, hopefully, for yours – is certainly worth a couple of temporarily sore feet.


                                               Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi