I have no faith, but I was greeting within the first 5 minutes of this film. With all the films I’ve watched lately, where difference is a divide, difference is a source of conflict, it moved me to tears to watch a film where difference is neighbourhood, difference is valued, difference makes us all richer.
Ziyara is pilgrimage to the resting places of saints. In Judaism, this means people, rabbis and scholars, who were close to God. Morocca is scattered with holy sites, selpulchres of the devout. But since the mass emigration of Moroccan Jews to Israel after its founding, these places are almost exclusively taken care of by the Muslims there.
It honestly brought me to tears to see the level of care and reverence with which these sites are treated. The Muslim caretakers look after these places with such attention to detail and respect. Everything is kept not just clean, but *spotless*. One cemetery guardian taught herself Hebrew so she could catalogue the gravestones and keep the heritage for anyone who comes back to find it.
And it is not simply religious sites which are preserved. One shopkeeper, whose father took over the shop of a Jewish family after they left, has kept the mezuzah by the shop door, and by his counter. He would never think of doing anything else, he says, everything that contains the word of God is holy. Others say the same, that Jews, Christians, Muslims, are cousins of the one family, and they miss the presence of Jews in their communities like you would miss family.
Everywhere they go, they meet with kindness. And I almost cried harder at that than I have at the other films showing such sorrow. Because it is such an overlooked blessing, the simple kindness of others. And in a world where we are so wary and constantly expecting to meet the worst, kindness is just a rare and resurrecting balm.
The filmmaker visits old synagogues, where the Muslim caretaker has the keys, comes in to keep and maintain the place, and knows the traditions inside and out. In one synagogue with only a dwindling congregation of two dozen or so Jews, they ask the caretaker why he has kept 5 torahs here. “Because,” he says, “if they were sent away to a museum, how would we even know Jews were here?” The torahs remain for anyone who might come looking for the past, and somewhere in a small hope that one day their Jewish neighbours will return.
In the Casablanca Jewish museum, the Muslim curator shows the filmmaker the ancient torahs. With white gloves, treated with the utmost preciousness and respect, she unrolls the carefully conserved scrolls. Before placing them back in their enclave, she redresses them, first in a simple white cloth, then tying them with a sash, and wrapping it in a jacket of green and gold. She could not have been more tender if she was dressing a newborn babe. She says to the filmmaker, “I’ve never told anyone this before, but before I touch the torah, I say,” Bismillah”. ” Meaning ‘in the name of God’.
The detail of the history which is kept is extraordinary. Where the Jewish quarter was abandoned, and the homes fell into ruin due to the weather, Muslim guides can still tell any visitors which house belonged to who, the names of the residents, who was their rabbi. It is just incredible.
I gret throughout this movie, it was just so moving. An affirmation of the everyday miracle of human kindness and the brotherhood of man.
To the emigre Jews of Morocco, your neighbours miss you.