The last morning in Casablanca before the train to Marrakesh found us at our now-traditional café, The Casablanca (of course), for coffee and the freshly-squeezed mélange of orange, grapefruit and mango. Its walls are covered with the ubiquitous portraits of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, as well as an oddly-placed Edward Hopper print (Nighthawks, of course). The café has nothing to do with the film, with no piano in sight, only hawking gestures towards the idea of the film, as well as the strongest coffee in town.
Yesterday found us at the Jewish Museum, the only museum in Casablanca, which is also the only Jewish museum in the Islamic world. It is an exploration of the balance that does not always come from tolerance, survival and oppression. The museum is committed to salvaging the monuments and synagogues which are the vestigal testaments to the 2,000 years of Moroccan Jewish history. It follows the fluctuations in history of Jews in Morocco, from a once-thriving population in the hundreds of thousands to less than 12,000 today. It gives voice to the Jews who were first welcomed in Morocco after they were driven out of Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1496, through the period of Moulay Rashid, the Moroccan leader united the separate parts of Morocco into a single state, but tore down the synagogues in the 17th century. It documents the mass exodus of Moroccan Jews who left for Israel after its creation, fleeing the after-effects of the colonialist Nazi-controlled French Vichy government. The museum speaks of tragedy, but it also speaks of the richness and hybridity of the Rabbinic and Talmudic literatures, philosophy and poetry in so many languages: Arabic, Berber, Spanish, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Spanish, French, and English.
The museum is on the outskirts of town, the liminal edges of the city. The only way of reaching it is with a taxi, the driver asking us why we would want to go there. Even the voyage of getting there, the short twenty minutes through the various neighborhoods which serve as Morocco's economic and business hubs, was almost as informative as the museum itself. The layers of the changing town were echoed in the ornamental birds that sat on the edges of the ancient, traditional Moroccan Hannukah candles that through the years have now morphed into crescent moons.