Moroccan American Jew Tells His Green March Story From Laayoune
Saturday 7 November 2015 - morocco world news By Joshua Cohen Laayoune
Streets lined with Moroccan flags. Children singing national songs. People sitting on top of cars while shouting expressions of love and admiration for their country. This is Laayoune in 2015. This is the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Green March.
When I was first invited to the 40th anniversary celebration of the Green March in Laayoune, I was excited, but also a little skeptical about my safety. After my confrontation with Aminatou Haidar in Washington, I knew I must always watch my back and be careful of who I trust. After my new dear friends, Hayat Noufouss Zidane, President of the Fédération Femmes Marocaines & Femmes du Monde, as well as Nicole Elgrissy, a Moroccan Jewish writer in Casablanca, insisted I come along, I decided I would attend the festivities.
Nicole and I travelled together, two Jews on our way to Laayoune to show our support for our Morocco and its territorial integrity. Of course our Jewish identity made our experience more unique, because this was over 50 years after the mass exodus of Jews from Morocco. Our attendance demonstrated the strong bond Moroccan Jews maintain with Morocco regardless of where they live in the world. Our Moroccan identities played a significant role in our sense of national belonging and unity alongside our Muslim countrymen.
Of course we were full of emotion, since this was our first time going to Laayoune. As the plane began flying over the Moroccan Sahara, we saw nothing outside the window but endless sand. It was early evening. Then out of nowhere, we spotted lights: a huge glow coming out of the sands. It was the city of Laayoune, shining like a pearl. From the moment we landed, we could feel the city we always heard about. We could feel its “Moroccanness”.
As we exited the plane, Nicole stopped abruptly and told me, “Joshua, grab your phone and let us make a video singing Laayoune Einiya”. Nicole and I wanted to capture the precious moment of our arrival. The strong sense of Moroccan national spirit overtook us and left us speechless. We were greeted at the airport with songs of the Green March.
We could feel the unity as we rode along the main avenues of the city. This was a pearl in the desert. Wide avenues lined with beautifully decorated homes reflected the desert city’s modern infrastructure. Nicole and I were impressed and overwhelmed with emotion. For the duration of our trip, we were amazed at the diversity and unity that was present in this pearl, this pearl we call Laayoune.
This is a special city. This is a city that reflects the meaning of being Moroccan. This is a city where unity takes on a new meaning. It takes on a meaning beyond national pride. It shows the mosaic and support of all Moroccans, from all regions, and their support for the cause of preserving Morocco’s national rights to its historical lands that were exploited and plundered by European colonial powers.
During the festivities, the number of people that recognized my face and knew my story surprised me. I found myself surrounded by many journalists taking pictures of me in traditional Sahrawi garb. Celebrities were mingling in the same space I found myself with Nicole.
When I went over to Moroccan singer Asma Lmnawar and asked for a picture, I told her that I am from America but I have some Moroccan roots. Immediately, her face lit up, and she responded that she knows who I am and that for her, I am simply a Moroccan, like anyone else. And she told me that she was proud of me and that she even saw my viral video with Aminatou Haidar. She told me to keep doing what I am doing and took out her own phone to take pictures with me. Of course I was at a loss for words and was pleasantly surprised that a famous Moroccan singer already knew who I was before I even introduced myself.
Touching words like this give me encouragement and reminded me of the importance of young people like myself getting involved in important causes. Our voices do matter as the young generation, because we are the future. Our elders must coach us and prepare us to be the next leaders of the world.
For me, Nicole Elgrissy was my main source of encouragement and inspiration. She always told me to keep going and never allow anyone to obstruct my beliefs and convictions and love for Morocco. Nicole is a role model for Moroccan Jews – she is very vocal and expressive of her patriotism and fond feelings of her Moroccan homeland and His Majesty Mohammed VI. She was a teenager when Morocco recovered its Sahara in 1975, so this trip was an extraordinary experience for her, especially as a Jewish woman that never left Morocco. Being accompanied by her on this trip has made my experience more memorable and enriching.
In addition to Nicole Elgrissy, Rabbi Jacky Kadosh, President of the Jewish community in Marrakesh, also participated in the festival with his wife. At the end of the festivities on Friday, all of us celebrated our Shabbat. Under the dark star-lit sky of the Sahara, we welcomed our Muslim compatriots to join us for a Shabbat dinner. Here we were, a table of Jews and Muslims at a Shabbat dinner table in Laayoune in the year 2015. This beautiful sight showed the unbreakable bond between Jews and Muslims in Morocco and the beauty of pluralism in our kingdom.
The spirit of Green March will always live on in the blood of the Moroccan people. The memory of His Late Majesty Hassan II will always be with us. What I saw in Laayoune this week sends a strong message to the international community that Moroccans are a proud people and we will never forget our history and rights of sovereignty in a post-colonial North Africa.|
The 40th anniversary of Green March is a reminder to the enemies of Morocco that they will never succeed in damaging the spirit of the Moroccan people. They will never stop the roaring crowds of Moroccans from celebrating their love for the Moroccan Sahara. For me, my attendance as an American shows my support for the first country in the world to recognize my country’s independence from a colonial power. My attendance as someone with Moroccan Jewish origins reflects that I do not forget my roots and the soil of the land my ancestors dwelled in for centuries.
Feature Photo credit: Adnane Bennis
Meditations on Morocco A New Form of Gender Inequality.
November 9, 2015 by Daria Etezadi Rabat, Morocco
Picture this: rows of tables line the cafe’s outer wall, and wooden chairs face out onto the street. On any given weekday, dozens of men can be found seated comfortably outside, sipping on their espressos and staring blankly at passersby. Walk around the city and, rest assured, you’ll see the same setup at every cafe and public space: countless men lounging around — not a single woman to be found.
Originally, I chalked this disparity up to traditional Middle Eastern culture, which often encourages women to lay low and distance themselves from men. But I went ahead and asked the locals if they knew the story behind these men who sit around and do absolutely nothing for hours on end, day after day. Do they have jobs? Where are the women?
Turns out the men who spend their time “people-watching” don’t have jobs, nor do they need them. Why? The women in their lives are working full-time jobs in clothing shops and medical centers and financing the household with their hard-earned money. These women return in the evenings, only to light the stoves and prepare a hearty dinner, passing the time by scrubbing the floors and hanging up the laundry.
So, these men can smoke their cigarettes or kick around a soccer ball, while their wives, sisters and daughters slave away to support their families. Go figure.
The Western perspective on gender inequality is based on the premise that women have historically been stereotyped as inferior to men and have therefore been denied access to the same opportunities — both at home and in the workforce.
Yet, here in Morocco, gender inequality takes on a whole new meaning: the culture here feeds the idea that women have a stronger work ethic and are subsequently positioned to fill the roles of both the breadwinners and the homemakers; traditionally, men here have accepted these gender roles and enjoyed the luxury of sitting around and smoking cigarettes for four or five hours on a Wednesday afternoon.
Well, then, doesn’t that mean that the women here should be treated with more respect and revered as higher-class citizens? Try again.
For entertainment value and to satisfy what I’d call an “entitlement complex,” Moroccan men, who aimlessly wander the streets or lean up against dilapidated buildings while puffing up smoke, will not hesitate to call out to women and walk alongside them, pressing for their phone numbers or following them for miles until they get bored.
Not all men in Morocco behave this way — just like any trend, there will always be those who fall within this pattern of behavior and those who qualify as outliers. But this behavior is so common that women are cautioned to be on guard, to conceal any valuables and to not engage the street harassment they will encounter. This — the catcalling and the kissing noises and the persistent conversations — is shrugged off, though apologetically, as part of the culture.
I was raised to believe that street and sexual harassment are inexcusable, period. However, I find it especially offensive when those on the receiving end of this shameful behavior are pulling most of the weight in this country and make up the hardest-working demographic.
So, the question remains: how can we successfully push for greater gender equality across the globe? Or, more specifically, how can we effectively extend this mentality that every human life matters and has value while understanding that cultural dynamics and the specifics of gender inequality vary from region to region?
Though we operate with the best intentions, many raise concerns that the United States and Western societies are overstepping their bounds by drawing attention to issues that the locals have learned to work around and have accepted as a way of life.
Several women here have admitted that they feel unsafe walking the streets at night without a male escort, and that they choose to wear a headscarf and reflective sunglasses because they feel safer when they are inconspicuous.
These women, who work tirelessly and endlessly, often don’t feel safe in their own neighborhoods. They don’t feel comfortable knowing they’re being watched and followed by men who have nothing better to do with their time and lack the motivation to occupy themselves with something more . . . productive. Yet, in spite of the added inconvenience, these women have gotten used to speaking in hushed tones and keeping a low profile. It’s just how things are done.
So I have to ask: is it wrong to question the norms in someone else’s community, or is it heroic? Whose place is it to fight for someone else’s rights, and who decides?
Daria Etezadi is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. Meditations on Morocco appears every other Monday on thehoya.com.
How the world’s longest-running Chabad house survives in Morocco.
by Ben Sales, JTA Nov. 10, 2015
Raizel Raskin’s office feels like a cluttered museum of Moroccan Jewish heritage. A photo from an old Jewish summer camp lays on the table. Another, of a rabbi meeting Moroccan dignitaries, hangs on the wall. Outside the door is a bookshelf filled with Hasidic tracts translated into Arabic.
But the rest of Chabad’s multistory complex here looks almost abandoned. Once a school bustling with hundreds of Jewish children, the facility today is largely an empty shell, with dust collecting on unused sports equipment and desks sitting disorganized in unused classrooms. Even the portrait of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the movement’s late leader whose bearded face typically occupies a place of honored prominence in Chabad homes, is peeling off the wall of the foyer.
Crossing the building’s courtyard, Raskin notices a dead bird. “Every emissary has their own problems,” said Raskin, who moved to Morocco from France with her husband, Yehuda, in 1960. Pointing at the bird, she added, “This is also part of the Morocco experience.”
At 65 years old, the Chabad in Casablanca is the Hasidic movement’s oldest outpost in the world, and one of only two in the Arab world (the other is in Tunis). Chabad’s first emissaries arrived there in 1950, the beta test for what would grow into a global movement of thousands of Chabad rabbis and their wives scattered across six continents.
In its early years, Morocco’s Jewish population numbered 250,000 and Chabad served 5,000 students in schools across the country. But following the establishment of Israel in 1948 and Morocco’s independence from France in 1956, the vast majority emigrated. Today, Chabad runs classes, weekend programs and a summer camp for the 2,500 Jews who remain. The week before Rosh Hashanah, raw chickens sat on crates ready to be cooked.
Chabad has survived here by keeping a low profile and maintaining good relations with the government. Like other Jewish institutions in Morocco, Chabad’s activities take place mostly behind closed doors. Its main building in Casablanca is unmarked, and a second facility is accessible through a winding alley removed from the street, with little outward identification.
Local rabbis also avoid talking about the Jewish state. Rabbi Levi Banon, who was born in Morocco and returned to run the operation in 2009, says Casablancans are mostly indifferent — or even friendly — toward Jews, though tension does flare during Israel’s frequent military operations. Raskin said that during Israel’s earlier wars, Moroccans would throw stones at Jews.
“Moroccan people are good people,” Banon said. “To them, the most important is the human touch and the human instinct. That’s more important than politics.”
The first Chabad rabbi in Morocco, Michael Lipsker, was dispatched by Schneerson at the behest of his predecessor, Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, who wanted Chabad to help ensure the country’s long rabbinic tradition wouldn’t be lost.
“The tradition is very strong here — everyone has his own customs, his family’s customs,” said Raskin, whose husband served as the Morocco emissary for more than four decades until his death in 2004. “The previous rebbe said that the Jews of Morocco have a lot to do.”
Chabad has persisted through the years by staying in the good graces of Morocco’s rulers. A photo of King Mohammed VI hangs next to Schneerson’s portrait near the building’s entrance, and Banon says Schneerson kept a correspondence with Mohammed’s father, Hassan II. Hassan’s United Nations ambassador even visited Schneerson in Brooklyn in 1988.“You have done much good for the Jews there,” Schneerson told him, before giving him two dollar bills for charity — one for himself, one for the king — a tradition Schneerson maintained with many of his visitors for years.
“There were a few problems, but not from the government,” said Rabbi Shalom Edelman, who has served as a Chabad emissary in Morocco since 1958. “The government was always good to Jews.”
In recent years, Morocco has experienced what the Chabad emissaries describe as a newfound openness to the world. The standard of living has risen and, though Morocco and Israel don’t have formal diplomatic relations, Chabad rabbis can still freely travel between the two countries, an impossibility in the 1960s.
But none of that is likely to result in a resurgence of Jewish life in the country. While Raskin and Edelman are happy so many emigres have moved to Israel, they feel like caretakers for the vestiges of what was once an illustrious community.
“I know they went to Israel, to a safe place I can’t worry about, to a good place for fearing God,” Edelman said. “But for us, it’s harder. We need to fill a space. We educated them and they left, so what we accomplished left.”
Column: Life abroad in Morocco
November 9, 2015 By Molly Miller
A few weeks ago, I decided to check out an evening philosophy class hosted by this local group that calls itself Nueva Acrópolis, and it was all nice and pleasant until I was asked for my opinion on some theory about the harmony between mind and body. Not only was I terrified of speaking Spanish in front of a room full of native speakers, but I also realized that I didn’t really have opinions of Spain.
Usually, when I’m in classes at UConn, I’m critical of everything. I’m critical of the information that’s presented, I’m critical of the way that the professor is presenting it and I’m critical of the professor for choosing to present the information in the first place.
When I hear new information in Spanish, however, I’ve realized that I focus so hard on understanding each phrase that I don’t have the energy to figure out whether or not I agree with what’s being presented. By the time I have understood what’s being said, I’ve already mentally accepted it as true. This really bothers me. I’ve come to see skepticism as one of my better qualities, and the idea of just going along with the flow without thinking is scary. That’s why I’ve decided to err on the side of cynicism for the time being.
I know that no one likes a cynic, and I’ve always had this idea that study abroad isn’t the time for cynicism. It’s the time for traveling and being young and free and prancing through new cities with flowers in your hair. At least, that’s the impression I’ve gotten from social media.
But I really do enjoy being cynical. I feel as though not to being at least a little bit skeptical or cynical of a city is almost disrespectful. You can’t love a town, a city, or a country without first accepting its flaws. It seems better to wait until you know the good and the bad of place before you share opinions about it.
I visited Morocco two weekends ago, and it was a lot of fun. We rode camels, ate cous cous, felt good about ourselves after haggling at markets, and basically did all of the things that tourists are supposed to do there. The cities were interesting and I’d definitely like to return if it’s ever a possibility, but I wouldn’t say that I know the place enough to love it.
When my señora asked how Morocco was, I told her it seemed beautiful and that it reminded me of Granada. She told me that Morocco was a different world, nothing like Granada. In truth, a lot of the architecture is pretty similar. One of the biggest industries in Granada is tourism, and much of that tourism, in Granada and in other cities in the Andalusian region, revolves around Arabic and Mudejar architecture.
Spain also occupied northern Morocco for a while during the twentieth century, so one could even say that both cultures influenced each other. I guess the part that makes Morocco a “different world” are the buildings that are occupied by those who are Muslim, whereas the buildings here are occupied mainly by tourists.
Of course, there are other differences. Spain has a safer reputation, greater freedom of press.
The point is, I didn’t spend enough time in Morocco to understand it. It’s impossible to get to know a city, let alone a country, in a weekend. Sure, you can notice small things that you like or dislike, but a weekend with a tour group can only expose you to so much, and I don’t think it would be honest for me to say whether or not I like or dislike a place after only spending three or four days in it.
Molly Miller is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com. She tweets @MollyKBMiller.
Morocco’s Banque Populaire Inaugurates its Representative Office in Washington D.C.
Thursday 12 November 2015 - morocco world news Washington D.C.
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