A Return to Amsterdam: Jewish Tour and A Golden Age Uncovered 🌷🇳🇱
More from The Wandering Jew: A return to a place I visited 25 years ago, and some Jewish surprises there
I woke very early to catch the train from Fes to Casablanca, a very European experience. I hauled my suitcase uphill through the cobblestone medina, unrecognizable with all the stalls closed—and perfectly timed, my one full day (two nights) in Fes, my favorite stop in the country where I’d definitely spend more time—ending as a Muslim holiday began. The stalls and normally buzzing medina wouldn’t be reopening that day.
I got to the gorgeous Blue Gate at the northwest end, where I’d visited the night before, had a coffee, and tried to flag a cab. A van driver approached, offered me a ride, and off we went.
The ride was rustic and dry, some sights, but mostly I rested until arriving at a train station you might confused for an airport: Huge, modern, and swarming with travelers.
Catching a cab, exhausted and fatigued with COVID (and still not realizing it was settling in), I already missed Fes. Casablanca is far larger and more sprawling and European, though nowhere near as charming as any of its French influences. Some of the buildings felt Parisian, and the block layout definitely — but it’s the youngest and most suburban-feeling of the large metros in Morocco.
I stayed in a high-rise amid a commercial strip, a huge, cheap hotel room for one night, with the fastest internet of the entire journey. All my trip’s thousands of photos and videos finally backed up. Whew!
Here in Casablanca I saw some of the most striking Muslim sights on my trip, as well as the most glorious synagogue in the country.
I quickly took a cab toward the Museum of the Moroccan Jews—the only one of its kind in the Muslim / Arab world, only to find it closed and its hours on its website wrong. In the future on my journeys, I’ll reach out to places ahead of time; this happened in Amsterdam later as well.
So another sweaty cab ride and I was back in the center to check out the mellah—the Jewish quarter—like the city of Casablanca itself, the quarter is younger. A few old, closed synagogues are marked with some Hebrew signs, but nothing remains open save for one:
The Temple Beth-El, on a main road and near the medina. I approached the gate, unsure if I was in the right place, and having been turned away from the museum wasn’t sure if Casablanca would be a bust. I buzzed, and an older man in a kippah answered and only spoke French.
“Juif?”, he asked, a couple of times, glancing at my arms covered in tattoos. I replied “Open? Tour?” to no avail, not knowing yet that “Juif” means “Jew”.
A man on the stairs to the synagogue walked up and said, “He’s asking if you’re Jewish,” and he let me in. Turns out that man was visiting from Canada with his father, who got married in the synagogue in the 50’s.
The grounds are small, a courtyard with a fountain and plaques, and when you enter: Wow. What a stunning restoration they did. I said the shema, walked around—again, the only person in the room—and marveled. I kept saying “Wow” and noticing more details.
The rest of Casablanca had little “wow” for me. The medina is rough, dirty, and largely full of plastic trinkets and modern shops. I meandered for miles to the waterfront, spied the Atlantic for the first time on the trip (and my first time, really, on that side of it, from where we all came), and found my destination, the mosque on the water.
The Hasan II Mosque was closed for tours for another few hours; I was dead on my feet and I left. But the outside, wow. It’s incredibly tall and large and built in 1993, so nothing historic, but with a minaret at 210 meters (largest in the world) and capable of squeezing over 100,000 people in its courtyard and interior, it’s incredible.
The Muslim world fascinates me, and I hope to see more soon. I leave you (and my Moroccan adventure) with a look at the call to prayer in the street in front of my hotel as I headed out. Just amazing. So crowded with people that I and two women couldn’t get through.
From Morocco, my Jewish journeys took me to Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Paris. What a joy it is to travel again, and here’s to much more learning and adventuring in the coming year. L’Shana Tova.
And Shabbat Shalom!