- Amizmiz (Mellah and Cemetery)
Walk through the mellah (Jewish quarter) of Amizmiz. Located at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, Amizmiz’s synagogue no longer exists, though the structures of many former homes and businesses remain. These places are described by members of the village’s current inhabitants as “Jewish owned,” but most Jews left in the early 1960s. After touring the mellah, see the scattered remains of the Jewish cemetery, where a gravestone shard reveals a single Hebrew letter (Shin) and a Muslim man remembers his former Jewish neighbors. He recounts how and when they left, and offers a surprising reason for why.
A silent walk through the abandoned Jewish cemetery of Ighil’n'Ogho reveals human bones, shattered graves, and one remarkably intact headstone in Hebrew. The village is located in the Talouine region of southern Morocco and once had a large Jewish population. Many of the local Jews were merchants and itinerant peddlers — often of saffron, a regional specialty.This tour begins at the oldest end of the cemetery, where what seems to have once been a small ritual room now shows evidence of local Amazigh (Berber) women ablutions; the women wash themselves inside the grave in the superstitious hope of getting pregnant. Note the clothing, water-jugs, and even plastic soap bottles scattered throughout the cemetery.
Moving beyond this ritual “room,” what appears to be random rocks are actually grouped into clumps marking centuries-old graves. Smaller clumps may indicate the graves of children. Newer and better preserved graves–made of concrete–become visible as the tour heads toward the main road leading into the village.
- Lost Jewish Cemetery of Ait Benhaddou?
A late afternoon visit to the old casbah (fortress) of Ait Benhaddou (in southern Morocco, outside Ouarzazate) reveals a mystery. The casbah includes a small Jewish quarter. But where was the old community’s cemetery?A young man who runs a souvenir kiosk inside the casbah explains that the film “Gladiator” filmed scenes nearby. He was an extra during the filming, and during downtime he and his friends played soccer on the backside of the casbah’s hill. As they played a few hundred yards away from the Muslim cemetery, a bone suddenly emerged from the ground.
The young man mentioned the incident to an elderly relative, who stated that the mound where the boys played soccer was the old Jewish cemetery. He agrees to take viewers on a hike along the backside of the casbah to the site. At first all that appears is a pile of rocks, which may or may not mark a grave. Then suddenly bones appear and the mystery deepens. With no definitive answers and many lingering questions, the muezzin calls out over the casbah as dusk descends.
In a city whose name means “without noise,” it too sits silently. Surrounded by a high mud wall capped with a barbed-wire crown, the Jewish cemetery of Ouarzazate appears mostly to be an earthen field, with clumps of stones and a few concrete slabs marking old graves. Outside the walls are film studios where Hollywood classics like Star Wars have been shot. Inside the cemetery, the only “blockbuster” is an elegant shrine with black marble columns protecting the 400-year-old graves of two rabbis. The high wall surrounding the cemetery appears to be a relatively new construction. Remnants of women’s clothing atop some of the graves indicate that local Muslims often accessed the cemetery for fertility rituals (a common belief holds that a woman who wants to become pregnant should wash herself on a Jewish grave). Due to vandalism and to wear from the elements, no graves are fully intact and most are simply piles of rubble. A few small gravestones fragments with Hebrew writing are the only obvious markers of the cemetery’s inhabitants.
Perched on a small hilltop on the road from Marrakesh to Taroudant is a small terra cotta room with a locked door. It is the shrine of Yaakov Abudram and Sliman Aviav. The Jewish community of Tahnaout purchased the land for this cemetery early in the 20th Century, but left the area in 1964. The cemetery guardian and a local man explain the site’s history.
- Tighedouine (Cemeteries and Homes)
The village of Tighedouine is located amidst the foothills of the Middle Atlas Mountains. See two abandoned Jewish cemeteries that were nearly built over by a European real estate company, tour a former Amazigh (Berber) Jewish home, hear local Muslims’ memories of their Jewish neighbors, and explore inside an abandoned olive press once used by Jews and Muslims.