The lesson of a Jewish cemetery

Notwithstanding saturation coverage of the “Massacre In The Med” (as the front page headline in Britain’s Daily Mirror put it), there are other Jewish stories in the news. This one caught my eye in Canada’s Shalom Life: “No danger to the Jewish cemeteries in Tangiers.” Apparently, the old Jewish hospital in this ancient port city was torn down a couple of months back, and the Moroccan Jewish diaspora back in Toronto worried that their graveyards might be next on the list. Not to worry, Abraham Azancot assured Shalom Life readers. The Jewish cemetery on the rue du Portugal is perfectly safe. “Its sanctity has consistently been respected by the local government that is actually providing the community with resources to assist in its current grooming.”

Sounds great. Being in the neighbourhood, I thought I’d swing by and check out the “current grooming.” It’s kind of hard to spot unless you’re consciously looking for it: two solid black metal gates off a steep, narrow street where the rue du Portugal crosses the rue Salah Dine, and only the smallest of signs to indicate what lies behind. On pushing open the gate and squeezing through, I was greeted by a pair of long underwear, flapping in the breeze. In Haiti, this would be some voodoo ritual, alerting one to go no further. But in Tangiers it was merely wash day, and laundry lines dangled over the nearest graves. If you happen to be Ysaac Benzaquen (died 1921) or Samuel Maman (died 1925), it is your lot to spend eternity with the groundskeeper’s long johns. Pace Mr. Azancot, there is no sense of “sanctity” or “community”: as the underwear advertises, this is no longer a public place, merely a backyard that happens to have a ton of gravestones in it. I use the term “groundskeeper” but keeping the grounds doesn’t seem to be a priority: another row of graves was propping up piles of logs he was busy chopping out of hefty tree trunks. Beyond that, chickens roamed amidst burial plots strewn with garbage bags, dozens of old shoes, and hundreds of broken bottles.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s