I spent the morning wandering down by the crashing surf along the Moroccan coast and through the medina alleyways of Rabat, feeding the stray cats.
After some morning work, I retired to sip sweet mint tea in the tea house in the sturdy ochre kasbah. Filigree-covered metal doors guarded the Moorish arch doors and windows of the whitewashed riad to my eastern vantage.
I studied French in the tea house wrapped in colorful tile patterns, sitting on a royal blue wooden stool with a royal blue wooden table as my desk. I am distracted by the lilt of Spanish from the tourists playing card games (droves of Spaniards have descended on Morocco for the holiday season), and the young lovers whispering in Arabic behind me. The language studies problems of a polyglot.
In the calm Bouregreg River that slowly runs below, fishermen stand on old blue-and-white wooden boats as traffic in Salé passes unnoticed. In the far ground, waves lap slowly and gently against the sands.
I finished my studies, and as the tourists piled into the tea house, I escaped to the gardens to sit under jasmine and read “Speaker for the Dead” by Orson Scott Card (Of Ender fame):
“Impossible. Every person is defined by the communities she belongs to and the ones she doesn’t belong to. I am this and this and this, but definitely not that and that. All your definitions are negative. I could make an infinite list of the things you are not. But a person who really believes she doesn’t belong to any community at all invariably kills herself, either by killing her body or by giving up her identity and going mad.”
And facing my own exile, this Speaker for the Living gave moisture to the dead.
As I was finishing up the chapter, I heard a sound that sent shivers down my back.
It was Hebrew.
A large tour group of Israelis. In Morocco. Something unheard of 15 years ago when I studied in Rabat, when the second intifada smoldered.
I could hear the Sephardi-accented Hebrew of morocayim, and I was in shock.
I closed my Kindle and began walking to the gates of the walled fort. The group was also leaving, and as I passed them, I said softly, “Happy Chanukah.”
At first, the woman closest to me didn’t understand. Ech? Chanukah? Huh?
I said it a few more times, then added a bit of phlegm: Chanukah Sameyach!
Ah! The group immediately understood. And we began chatting in Hebrew.
I was literally in shock, as we chatted. I told them that they were the greatest Chanukah present could I receive today; they were literally my Chanukah miracle. They sang “Ma’oz Tsur” and it was so unexpected that my heart thumped with emotion.
As we walked out into the parking lot, they gave me a big hug and wished me well. A gentleman said to me about how all the Jews all over the world are connected. I smiled and replied, “kol ha’olam kulo gesher tsar ma’od,” meaning “the whole world is a narrow bridge.”
I ducked back into the medina, beaming with joy and tears running down my face. I put my BluBlockers on to hide the streaking tears and I giggled to myself down the narrow lanes. It is such a curious thing to laugh and cry at the same time. It is a moment that comes rushing out, like a confluence of two rivers. Such a curious thing, indeed.
Paul Rockower is the executive director of Levantine Public Diplomacy. He is presently in Rabat, Morocco, working on cultural diplomacy programs in North Africa.