Vered L. Harris
On October 10, 2023 I went to our regular Rotary Club 29 lunch meeting. I was in a state of shock over the events on October 7, when thousands of people in Israel were brutally attacked, murdered, tortured, maimed, and kidnapped by people who infiltrated the country from Gaza. That Tuesday was my first outing not surrounded by other Jewish people. It seemed that everyone else’s lives in the club were relatively normal during the previous 72 hours, while my world was turned violently upside down. Several people expressed to me their compassion for the circumstances. One member of our club asked if I wanted a hug. I am generally not a high-touch person, but his embrace is an act of goodwill and friendship I continue to carry in my heart.
In December I led a tour of 27 people on a Jewish heritage tour of Morocco. On Saturday morning a group of us went to a small synagogue for Sabbath prayers. As is traditional in Orthodox Judaism, the men were in the main sanctuary while the women gathered in an adjacent space behind a curtain. No one in our group spoke Arabic and very few knew French. When the service leader asked if any of the guests in the main sanctuary would like a service honor, he spoke in modern Hebrew. Some of our travelers understood; I called out the translation from behind the curtain for those who didn’t. In an old Moroccan synagogue Jewish people from the United States benefited from our Hebrew education when we were asked to participate in ancient rites through a reborn modern language. Everywhere I go, my connection to Israel goes with me.
For certain religious rituals we require the presence of at least ten Jewish people over the age of 13. This is called a minyan. In some communities the minyan must be composed exclusively of men. For nearly three months the congregation we prayed with had not had the ten men they needed to make a minyan. With our men, they totaled eleven. What they did not know, because they did not ask, was that not all our men were Jewish. We learned there was a history in some Moroccan communities for Muslim men to accompany their Jewish neighbors to synagogue if they did not think there would be a minyan. In turn, Jewish families joined their Muslim neighbors for celebrations and Islamic feasts. At one time the Jewish population of Morocco was nearly 300,000. Today it is less than 2,500. There remains respect and cooperation between neighbors, although the lessened propinquity necessitates change. The story of the decline is its own lesson in geopolitics. It is a simple truth that the reverberations of Zionism, antisemitism, philosemitism, and Israel reach every place there are Jewish people.
Everywhere we go, we each carry complex stories of experience, emotion, and opinion. What for some of us is a story on the news, for others is the framing of our entire worldview. As true as this is for each of us, so it is true for the people we strive to help around the world with our Rotary service, and the people in our own club whom we greet with goodwill and friendship.