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Colors of Morocco

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Morocco, a country of distinct culture and boundless color, a place where customs of East and West converge, has been a land of ageless history, architecture, and intrigue. Named Travel & Leisure’s 2015 “Travel Destination of the Year”, Morocco holds more than meets the eye as each city is personified by a distinct color and character.  While Morocco in its entirety is fascinating, the story of Jewish lineage is particularly so. Having had the exceptional opportunity to travel within Morocco this past year, I delved into the three-thousand-year-old history and traditions of ancient Moroccan Jewry.

The country that holds prolific inspiration for writers, artisans, and philosophers has been called home by generations of a tight-knit Jewish community. Until the past half century, a once bustling population of more than 300,000 Jews now remains a scattered 3,000. Although small, the Jewish community continues to be strong and vibrant. Dating back roughly 2,500 years ago, the Jewish population in Morocco was the largest in the Arab world. Under the reign of King Mohammed V (1927-1961) and subsequently his son, King Hassan II (1961–1999), Jews enjoyed living freely alongside their Muslim counterparts. As King Mohammed II was once famously quoted, “I do not have Muslim citizens, nor do I have Jewish citizens. I have Moroccan citizens”. A solid sense of patriotism is held within the gates of Morocco for Jews and Muslims alike. It became evident as I inquired with locals about living under their current and past monarchs – they are confident and proud. Despite being a minute community, many Jews compare their relationships to their Muslim neighbors as “brothers” and “close friends.” They show an equal sense of pride for both their Jewish and Moroccan roots. Paradoxically, a country nestled in between the most intolerable of regions shows a strong sense of camaraderie and acceptance.

moroccoAs a Sephardic Jew born and raised in Los Angeles, my childhood was constantly showered with stories of my parents’ upbringing in the Middle East. I learned of their homes near the most ornate age-old mosques and their relationships with the neighboring Muslim communities, but it was only until I entered Morocco that these stories finally came to life.

Upon arriving into Fès, the blue imperial city, the essence of the old Jewish community is near palpable as you are greeted by the grandeur of the Bab Boujloud gates, guarding what used to be the walls of the mellah, or Jewish quarter. Walking through the centuries-old mellah, which once held the largest of Jewish populations, it was as if the stories of my father’s adolescence had been painted before my eyes. The narrow cobblestoned paths were scattered with donkeys carrying freshly dyed leathers from nearby tanneries and local Moroccans sporting the traditional djellaba robe. It was evident that not only the architecture, but the day-to-day way of life remained unchanged throughout the decades. Still, the only traces of Jewish life remain within the stories of the city’s cobalt blue walls.

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    Ibn Danan Synagogue

The 17th century Ibn Danan Synagogue is adorned by a wealth of traditional Moroccan mosaic tile work, or zellij in Arabic. The striking patterns of the traditional Moroccan starburst motif, testir, in an array of forms makes evident how Arabesque architecture and culture have beautifully permeated the Jewish sphere. Within its rich turquoise walls, the strength the Jewish community once held was undeniable, as both Torah scrolls were seemingly untouched. As beautiful as this sight was, the real treasure lay hidden. As I followed a short dark corridor down three stone stairs, a dim light reflected a small pool of water in front of me—I soon realized it was the original mikveh of the synagogue, laying tranquil, unscathed. Still filled with water, it reminded me of what I once heard, “where there is water, there is life”, and this centuries-old mikveh had once been a witness to prayer and miracles—the beating heart of Jewish life.

March 2000 Meknes, Morocco

 

Driving through the lush pastures of Meknès, the city of green, into the capital, Rahbat, we were greeted warmly by natives of the Jewish community with two kisses on the cheek and offered aromatic mint tea. Over a beautiful dinner table adorned with traditional dishes of tajine, pastilla, couscous, and an array of spicy harissa, the locals were charming and warm as they conversed in a mélange of Arabic, French, and English. They were quick to express their delight in meeting fresh, young Jewish faces—something that has become a scarcity as most families have made aliyah since the formation of Israel. Nonetheless, they expressed the love and pride they hold for their native hometown, Morocco.

spice-market-marrakechAs I reach the rose-colored walls of Marrakech, the city of red, I am immediately drawn in by the warm sandstone glow the city emanates. Passing through the medina into the souk, or Arab baazar, my senses are heightened by the endless sparks of color; uninterrupted arrays of turmeric yellow, jade green, paprika red, and cobalt blue. The scents of spices seem all too familiar—coriander, saffron, cumin, and turmeric. An odd sense of familiarly and sentiments of home are felt as it seemed that my heart had a yearning to connect to my deeply embedded Sephardic roots.

My exploration of the Jewish community of Morocco proved to be an experience of intrigue and connection. I felt fulfilled as I was finally able to perceive first hand, the history, the struggle, and the ultimate resilience of my Sephardic roots. It taught me lessons of diversity, acceptance, and the promise to pass onto future generations what makes us who we are and has kept us resilient amongst our adversities–our Jewish legacy.

Similar to the interwoven patterns of the zellij, Jews each with a unique story require both an individuality and interconnectedness in order to create an intricate pattern—one cannot discover where one lineage ends and the other begins.

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Rebecca Aframian completed her master’s degree in interior architecture and design at L’École des Beaux-Arts Paris American Academy in Paris, France. She is currently working as a residential designer with a firm in Santa Monica, California.

Culture

High Collars, High Holidays 

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Never in a million years did I think I would be fond of the ‘high collar’, also known as the ‘turtle neck.’ I still cringe everytime I hear the name. I remember my mom making me wear them when it got cold outside… But hello, we live in Los Angeles. When does it get cold?

Dressing already modestly, by covering my knees, elbows (song playing in my head), the thought of covering my full neck is like dude, can I show any skin!? It almost felt like I was covering too much, as if I couldn’t breathe! It is as if someone is choking and restricting my head!

Seeing this trend all over magazines and fashion blogs, I decided to give it another chance! Lo and behold… I fell in love. The choking high collar has NOW become my ultimate favorite thing. Just ask Judith, co-founder of our fashion line RaJu. I keep adding turtle necks to all our styles to the point where we’re almost tired of it. The high collar has a sense of class and elegance to it. It has personality, dimension and is more mysterious. Wearing this dress, with all of its details, print and ruffles, I felt like the high collar tied it all together. The high collar makes you of high end, it’s a luxury, a lifestyle. It forces you to carry yourself in a certain way by maintaining a straighter back and a better posture. Everything manifests differently because of this magical collar.

The high collars forces you to hold your head up high, like a princess. When I see someone wear it, it really adds a beautiful sense of royalty and confidence. As we come into the High Holidays (the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), a solemn time, a time for judgement and reflection, we must remember that we are all daughters and princesses of a king. Wear what you may, during these High Holidays… you know what I’ll be wearing!

Here’s some inspiration:

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Six Mindful Eating Tips for Your Body and Soul

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The average person spends at least one hour a day eating. So by the age of 30, you’ve spent the equivalent of two years just putting food in your mouth. How can we make this a more pleasurable, productive and meaningful experience?

Traditional Jewish thought has much to say about what we eat, how we eat, when we eat, and even why we eat, and much of it is also recommended by modern scientists.

 

  1. Eat Hungry.

 

When was the last time you pulled over at a gas station to fill up your tank that was already full? Probably never. However, when was the last time you ate something when you weren’t hungry?  

Checking your hunger gauge before popping in that random bite will allow you to keep your weight in check as well as build your self-control.

Going to your second event of the evening, already fed, and still have an urge to pop down some more food?  Like the modern day nutritionists, King Solomon advises against the unnecessary consumption of food, saying “The righteous eat to satisfy their souls” (Proverbs 13:25).

  1.  Sit Down.

Late to work? Running after the kids? Doing errands? No problem–it’s just not the best time to be chomping down your meal.  Although it may save time, it’s a bad idea. The Talmud uses harsh terminology against those who eat while standing. The Rambam, in his magnum opus Mishneh Torah, says that one should never stand or walk while eating.

Modern day scientific research also claims that this kind of eating is fattening and unhealthy. In fact, there is even a diet based on this understanding, called ‘The Sit-Down Diet’, which suggests that we consume fewer calories when we eat sitting down versus while standing up or walking. We are also more likely to digest food better when we sit down and chew our food properly.

  1.  Acknowledge

You’re hungry and sitting down to your meal, now recognize where the food comes from. Taking three seconds to acknowledge basic details of the culinary dish placed before you can set the tone for rest of the meal. Something as simple as verbally acknowledging the work of the cook, especially if it is a parent or spouse, can have a profound effect on your mood. Paying attention to all of the individual ingredients can make the experience even more tasty.

On a deeper level, every time any food is consumed, Jewish sources tell us one should recite a blessing of recognition prior to taking the first bite. A common misconception is that the blessing or bracha that is said before eating is a form of thanksgiving. This is not accurate; while the after-blessing of Birkat Hamazon clearly mentions the act of thanksgiving, the initial blessing makes no mention of thanks. It is a statement acknowledging that God is the Creator of the food (Blessed are you Hashem … Creator of ….).

  1.  Remove Distractions

Imagine our reaction to someone in a movie theater who is on their phone half of the time.  Would we have the same reaction to the ever-so-common sight of someone munching down an entire meal while consumed with an iPhone, TV or computer screen?  One cannot fully enjoy a meal while answering emails or scrolling through their Facebook newsfeed.

Unlike many other religions whose ordinances promote abstinence from physical pleasures, Judaism incorporates the pleasure of eating in every one of its holidays. However, we rob ourselves of this enjoyment every time we mindlessly eat.

Don’t care about enjoyment? Distracted eating causes your digestion to be less effective in breaking down your food, leading to less flavor and increasing the possibility of bloating, gas and constipation. Trying to lose weight? Research shows that the more you distract yourself during a meal, the more pounds you add. Doing simple acts of mindfulness, such as paying attention to the smell, taste, appearance and texture of the food, can keep the focus on your meal.

  1.  Chew, Swallow, Wait… Repeat.

Ever mindlessly wolf down a meal in one minute? Scarfing down an entire meal can leave you feeling disheartened, but it can also leave you with unwanted extra fat on your hips.

Taking your body off of autopilot mode while feasting has great spiritual benefits as well.  In describing ways of going against animalistic eating habits, the great nineteenth-century Iraqi sage Rabbi Yosef Hayim, in his famous book, Ben Ish Hai, gives a recommendation that is sure to slow your scarf. He writes that one should not reach for the next bite until the previous bite has been completely swallowed.  

Speaking from experience, this one tip is much easier said than done. However, once mastered, this habit is sure to leaving you feeling in control and elevated, especially if you take it to the next level and put down your utensil between bites.

  1.  Appreciate.

Now that you’re satiated and your spirit is recharged, it’s time for some thanksgiving (without the turkey). Saying thanks is much harder when you have somewhere else you want to go. Maybe that’s why the only biblically ordained blessing is the Grace After Meals and not the blessing before the meal (Deuteronomy 8:10).

Being appreciative is a core Jewish value. In fact, Jews are called Yehudim from the word L’hodot, or to thank. Messages of appreciation are found in the stories of our forefathers and foremothers. Gratitude permeates the entire Jewish experience, from the first words that are uttered by our lips when we wake up in the morning, “Modeh Ani”, to the thrice-daily communal prayer service throughout the day.

Surprisingly, recently discovered side benefits of gratitude include improved health, increased self-esteem and even better sleep. Taking the extra minutes to appreciate our privileged satiated stomachs should now seem more meaningful and hopefully a little easier.

Although not practical for every meal, striving towards these goals should help us lead more meaningful, in-control and healthy lives.  For what it is worth, I will personally vouch for it!

 

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How To Thrive On Yom Kippur: Practical Tips For An Easier Fast

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Yom Kippur, one of the most sacred Jewish Holidays of the year, is upon us. Here are ways you can prepare yourself for the 25 hour fast. These pointers will help keep your stomach from grumblin’ and your breath from stankin’.

1) Cut down on the caffeine For all you coffee/tea addicts out there, your morning cup of caffeine is a must. In fact, some of you are quick to develop headaches/migraines if you don’t have that cup. What to do:  Days preceding the fast, try to minimize your caffeine intake as much as possible. Try some herbal tisanes, perhaps. Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. There is nothing better you can do for yourself than to drink. Stay away from alcohol; poppin’ bottles will only make you more prone to dehydration, causing unpleasantness during the fast.

2) Did I mention HYDRATION? The difficulty we experience during the fast is not usually linked to lack of food; rather, it is the lack of fluids. Best choices: You can never go wrong with the good ol’ H20. Experts suggest drinking EIGHT 8 oz cups of water per day. Try to reach that goal or even surpass it by drinking more the day of. Eat your way to hydration by stocking up on fresh fruits and vegetables. Some of the most hydrating foods include:  Cucumber, iceberg lettuce, celery, grapes, tomatoes, watermelon, green peppers, and spinach, to name a few. A handful of these ingredients mixed together sounds like a delicious salad, no?

3) What to eat the day of?  On the day of the fast try eating balanced meals. For the meal before the fast, eat a proper meal that includes protein, carbohydrates, and plenty of vegetables.  Eating more carbohydrates will help make you feel fuller longer (you can never go wrong with potatoes, pasta, and bread). Try to avoid salty and spicy foods as much as possible. The over-consumption of salt causes thirst because the body requires more water to absorb the extra salt. Knowing that we won’t be able to eat for 25 hours drives us to eat as much as possible before the fast begins. However, do yourself a favor and try not to eat a heavy 5 course meal fit for a Prince. The more you eat, the more water is needed from the body to digest it.


Now, you are fully equipped to a be an angel for the day.
 May we all be inSKRIBED and sealed in the Book of Life!

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june, 2018

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