Shabbat with Simona, and Thom

If you google the words “synagogue” and “Tangier,” one of the more recent results is from a blog called Tangier Telegram. The entry is just a photo with the caption, “rebuilt synagogue.” With all the other pages not being very specific, current, and/or produced by governments, I figured the best way to find the shul in Tangiers would be to contact the author of the blog, who–gathered from the sidebar–is an American currently living there.

I left a very long “comment” on the post explaining my situation and leaving my e-mail address. I also noted how potentially terrified I was of going to Tangier.

While waiting for a reply, I poked around Tangier Telegram and found out that its author had been working to restore the old Cinema Rif in the city. The films they screen are a mix of old and new, important and pop as well as organizing film making workshops. From the pictures it looked really beautiful.

A response came: The synagogue pictured is in Latvia. Tangier is fine and the synagogue here is located on the main boulevard Mohamed V and close to the ferry.

After I left Hafid at the train station, I asked Abdul if he happened to know where the Rif was located.

“Ha, that’s where I’m dropping you off. My car cannot fit onto the street where you are staying.”

After checking into Pensión Palace, I went back to the Rif to see what they were showing. The man at the door brough over a woman who spoke English and asked if anything was playing in the next day that I might understand. Nothing till Sunday.

“Also, what did the man say your name was?”
“I’m Simona. Are you Mike?”
“Ah, you made it.”

Simona gave me instructions once again on how to get to the synagogue. Every now and then she meets up with the old timers from the congregation, but they all speak Spanish and her only French; she never goes to services. If I’d want to meet up for some coffee afterwards, though, she gets off work at 7:30.

“Well, these Sephardim services seem to last a long time, but maybe.”

I walked around the city that afternoon but couldn’t find the synagogue. After a nap and a wake-up call from the Imam, I took another walk and bumped into it.

The synagogue was white, a little tattered, and had a wall fortifying it. There were Moroccan and, I believe, international police protecting the building. If Simona, who spoke French, couldn’t communicate with the members, then how would I? Would I be able to pass security? I didn’t particularly want to fall under the suspicion of Moroccan police. So I got a little scared and left. Shabbat in a diaspora is celebrated many different ways, and celebrating with a secular ex-pat is one way.

I showed up at 7:30 to the Rif with bread in hand.

“I tried finding candles and wine, too, but couldn’t.”
“Oh. I wouldn’t even know what to say anyways,” Simona replied. A small pang of regret for not going to shul hit. How foreign.

Simona had to finish up some work and was clicking away at a furious pace on the computer. I looked at all the press clippings and onto the floor below where a band played and Tangier hipsters mingled. It was surreal but felt like a very special place for the city.

After she finished we caught the last 20 minutes of Rashômon. It had French subtitles which I didn’t mind since I hadn’t understood what anyone had been saying for the past three weeks.

We started looking for a place to eat and I dug into my “challah” because I was starving. Simona directed us into a restaurant that would have a vegetarian option and spotted a guy sitting by himself with a Lonely Planet guide.

“Wait, I think I’m going to pick him up, too.”
She went over and we switched tables.
“Hi, I’m Thom.”

The three of us all ate dinner and talked, them more so and more intelligently than me since most of the conversation revolved around development issues and the influences of tourism. Everyone had a few extra dharums so we went up the street for a beer and continued. The bar closed up and so we talked a little more at the intersection, and then went our separate ways: Simona to home, Thom to the rest of Morocco, and me back to Spain.

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