Monday, August 22, 2016

MARRAKECH, MOROCCO: LAZAMA SYNAGOGUE

Bob is a terrific trip planner and really hit the jackpot with his guide selections for Morocco. He researched the best guides on the internet, relying especially on Trip Advisor recommendations. The best of all our guides was Abdul, our guide in Marrakech.

We were so impressed with not just Abdul's knowledge about his city, but also his thoughtful approach to planning our time. He assessed our interests as we went along, and he adjusted his plans for us accordingly. A very intelligent man, he also has a good grasp of historical and international issues, and his English is excellent.

The first place Abdul took us was to the Jewish quarter, which was quite close to our riad. Jews were once 10% of the population of Marrakech, but the total Jewish population is now only about 200. Abdul said that there is no discrimination in Morocco based on religion, but I wondered why, if that were the case, there weren't more Jews in Marrakech. Abdul said that had to do with past issues and with the gathering of Jews in Israel.

Anyway, we visited the old Lazama Synagogue, which is now a museum. It is unmarked on the outside and located down a narrow side street, and it would have been a challenge to find on our own.
The first Jews arrived in Marrakech as early as the days of King Solomon, and the population grew slowly by steadily through the centuries. In the 15th century, the sultan moved the Jews into what is known as the "mellah," or walled Jewish quarter of the city. There were as many as 35,000 Jews in Marrakech, and there were many synagogues and great rabbis in the mellah, as well as a complete array of shops, craftsmen, and schools.


The Lazama synagogue was built by Jews who had fled the Spanish Inquisition. The name "Lazama" is a version of the phrase "Al Azma," which somehow refers to the Jews who came to Marrakech from Spain.


The Lazama Synagogue building dates to the 16th century and in many respects has a traditional synagogue interior, but in other ways it incorporates traditional Moroccan art and architecture:





The synagogue is built around a central courtyard like a riad:

Classrooms surround the courtyard, much like a Muslim madrasa:


Pictures on the wall illustrate the history of the Moroccan Jews:


A 100-year-old Torah scroll written on animal skin is on display:

There is also a crate for storing or transporting the scroll

A display of shofurs, or a musical instrument made from a ram's horn and used in Jewish ceremonies:

Looking down on the sanctuary from above:

It was interesting to see this intersection of cultures and to recognize areas of merging and diverging. It's not a typical Moroccan destination, which made it that much more interesting.

4 comments:

  1. The synagogue was one of my favorite sites in Morocco. The old Torah, the pictures and shofars, the intersection of Jewish and Moroccan cultures, all fascinating. And Abdul was by far my favorite guide of the trip.

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  2. Is that one giant medallion on the ceiling? Or on he floor?

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    Replies
    1. It is on the ceiling. The floors are usually tile patterns. The Moroccan ceilings are the equivalent of the dome interiors in cathedrals.

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  3. Interesting history. The medallion is beautiful.

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