Tali is a super chatty middle-aged Sephardic Israeli woman who drove me to the airport on my recent trip to Israel. Her parents are Moroccan, and she recently traveled with them to Morocco for a visit. She told me that the Muslims in Morocco are so wonderful, kind and hospitable – they literally keep their doors open for guests. There is a reverent relationship from the Moroccan monarchy to the Jewish people, such that every Yom Kippur, at Neilah, the king comes himself to the Jewish synagogue to ask the congregants for a blessing. This is a tradition that has been practiced for years, passed down in the monarchy from father to son.
She described the food in Morocco – how she can eat anything there, because the Muslims are even more aversive to pork than the Jews. On the evening Passover ends, there is a tradition called Mimouna, where they make paper-thin crepes called “mufleta” and invite everyone in, including their non-Jewish neighbors, who helped them by buying their chametz, for a leavened dinner.
When I told Tali that on our trip we took the women all over the country, even to visit the ancient holy city of Tzfat and did a mikveh tour, she told me that the Muslims in Morocco also build mikvehs, and their brides immerse as well before their weddings. I could not believe it. I had never heard of this! We discussed the modern henna ceremony and how it used to be that the henna ceremony took place the day after mikveh, but is now disconnected from that ritual. Tali expressed her disappointment that the ceremonial aspects of Judaism are increasingly divorced from their spiritual components.
The Sephardic communities have a deep and abiding faith that is moving and inspiring. We discussed the peaceful history that Morocco has enjoyed, devoid of violent tribal clashes that are common in the region. Tali asserts that this is in the merit of the many righteous sages who have lived there.
We were almost at the airport when Tali offered her final nugget: when King Hassan died in 1999, the entire Jewish community recited the Kaddish.
Only in Israel! Here is a woman who grew up thousands of miles away from me, whom I’ve never met, who comes from completely different ancestry than I do. Yet, as she described Morocco, the land, the life, the traditions, the reverent respect to elders and sages, the Muslim camaraderie, I felt a growing sense of pride.
These were my people she was describing. I’ve never tasted mufleta or had a henna ceremony, but my heart swelled as I learned of the lives of my Moroccan brothers and sisters. I am proud of our co-religionists in Morocco. Proud of their faith, of their food, of their fidelity. Proud of the respect they’ve inspired in their Muslim surroundings, and proud of the peace that can be ours too, perhaps.
As Chanukah approaches I know Jews around the world will light candles based on our shared history and commonalities. When I see a menorah in a window the differences fall away. We do not have the luxury of dividing and subdividing ourselves as a people. Tali’s stories reminded me of one of Chanukah’s themes: who has made miracles for our ancestors, in those days and in these times. Let’s celebrate as one. The world needs it.