A Week With Muslims

Like most Jews of my generation (I was born in 1939), I grew up in an urban center (Newark NJ) and was decidedly liberal in practice and beliefs. Hence, I marched with my parents in support of the Rosenbergs and Paul Robeson. In college I was a member of the NAACP. And I pushed my babies in their strollers in protest of the Vietnam War. Just to cite a few items in my biography.

Support and love of Israel was also a core belief. My mother and aunts were all about Hadassah and my parents eventually made aliyah. They both rest in peace in the Herzliya Cemetery. My only sibling, my sister Janet, made aliyah as a very young woman and raised her sabra children here in Israel, where the army was part of their lives, as well as the life of Zeev, her husband and their father.

We ourselves are especially proud of our grandson Josh who himself made aliyah after his graduation from college. He now looks very handsome in his IAF uniform! And we, my husband and I, are citizens of Israel and expect that more of our grandchildren will live here before too long.

Our backgrounds and lives never taught us to hate the others. However we share a fervent distrust of the Trump regime with its campaign of hatred, against just about everyone! Mexicans. Muslims, Press. Judiciary. And can Jews be far behind? Everyone who doesn’t agree with the Donald. Scary stuff. We oppose the Muslim ban. The Mexican wall. The singling out of journalists and judges. And so much more.

So, last week we went on a trip to a Muslim country. We’ve already been to Jordan. We can’t go to far too many other Muslim countries although it pains me that Lebanon and Syria, filled with history, especially Jewish history, are so near and yet so far. Not in our lifetimes I’m afraid but I’d truly love to see Beirut, the Paris of the Middle East, and Damascus. Tragic that Aleppo has been destroyed. It was a major world Jewish center in times gone by. So much to have seen there.

I have no illusions that peace in our country is imminent or that anyone at all has a solution to our battles with our neighbors. I wish I had the answers. I don’t. And if you think you do, I’m sure you are wrong. Not every problem has a quick or easy solution. Our problems are very challenging and seem to become more so every single day.

But, last week we went on a trip to a Muslim country called Morocco. And we had a fantastic time. I know. I know. Israel has never been at war with Morocco. The Jews were treated well when they lived there in huge numbers. And now that most of them made aliyah, Jewish history is still alive and well. Synagogues are not exactly flourishing but some do get minyanim on Shabbat. We went to Beit El in Casablanca, an absolutely pristine and beautiful shul with about 25 worshipers. I admit it was difficult for me to find pages in the Siddur but I could hear the Kedusha and many other key parts of the service. What was most interesting was the absence of serious security. An old Moroccan man opened the gate for us and asked us nothing at all. Just let us in. Nothing compared to what we’ve experienced all over Europe, justifiably so, but haunting nonetheless.

Of course we met many many Muslim people. We spent days in a car with our driver whom we questioned unmercifully on every aspect of his life and the lives of his countrymen. How they dress. What their religion encourages (he prays five times every day, religiously),marriage, children, education, money (very little of it for the average Moroccan although he took us to see some neighborhoods that looked like Beverly Hills) and on and on and on. We learned a lot including that the majority of Moroccans are Muslim Berbers who get along and marry the minority who are Muslim Arabs.

We witnessed driving as I’ve never seen before. Driving that makes Israel look like a very sedate and calm place!

We ate vegetarian food that was easily available and absolutely delicious.

We saw and bought souvenirs that were NOT made in China. Imagine that. The skills of fashioning beauty from wood, tin, silver and leather were indigenous and quite lovely and we needed to buy two more suitcases to bring it all back to Israel. All was also very cheap.

So why do I share this? Because we began friendships with people who were, until now, very foreign to us. And we liked them. Not all, but many. Their hopes and dreams were not at all foreign to us. They wanted to be healthy. They wanted to make good lives for themselves and their children. And, those we met, are exceptionally devoted to their families, especially their mothers. As a mother, and a daughter, i can relate to that.

We sat for four hours in the first class section of a train, facing opposite a man of 38 and his mother. They were building a new home with two master bedrooms with private baths. The young man told us that, inshalla, with the help of Allah, he would find a wife and they would have children and live with his mother in the house. The mother shared his vision. And she’s also quite a cook! She taught us how she makes couscous, among other recipes that our kosher kitchen could adapt.

The bottom line is that it’s not a bad thing to know the strangers, the others. Getting along is clearly a two-way street and many many Israeli Jews do get along with Israeli Arabs. So, what our little trip reaffirmed is that it can’t be bad to speak to people who are different from us and learn their ways. I can’t imagine that there’ll ever be peace in this tiny land we love if we don’t do that, together, they and us. We want shalom and we have to know that many of them yearn for salaam. Of course they do.

About the Author
Rosanne Skopp is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of fourteen, and great-grandmother of two. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and travels back and forth between homes in New Jersey and Israel. She is currently writing a family history.