Ramah Morocco Experience 2017
Written by Renee Ghert-Zand
Pictures by Moshe Gold
Natalie Weiss had long wanted to go to visit Morocco, but the right opportunity had never presented itself. Then she got an email from Ramah Israel Institute (RII) announcing its 10-day Morocco trip last October.
“Everything Ramah does is fantastic, and I knew that I wanted to go on this trip,” said Weiss, whose four children have all attended Ramah camps and Ramah Israel programs.
Weiss and her husband Aaron Willis were not disappointed. They returned home to Los Angeles, California from the trip highly satisfied with their experience.
“The hotels and food were fantastic, the guides and staff were excellent, the landscape was spectacular, and we learned so much about the past and the present of the Moroccan Jewish community,” Weiss said.
Trip participants reported that the staff’s professionalism ensured both the smooth running of the adventure, as well as the success of its enriching educational component.
“[Former RII director] Moshe Gold and [trip coordinator] Adin Rodman’s enthusiasm and leadership was much appreciated,” said Phyllis Coffman of Boynton Beach, Florida and Denver, Colorado, who was on the trip with her husband Alan Strom.
“Also Epi made the trip amazing. It was his knowledge of Moroccan Jewish history and his fascinating stories that brought it all together,” Coffman said, using trip educator Dr. Seymour Epstein’s nickname.
“They really made everything come alive for us everywhere we went,” said Weiss.
Over the course of 10 days, the RII group traveled around the country, visiting key sites in the major cities of Casablanca, Rabat, Meknes, Fes, Marrakesh, as well as in towns and villages in between.
Morocco is a country welcoming to tourists and popping with color.
“We saw the desert, but I was surprised by how much of the country is green. And I loved Marrakesh because of the requirement there for all the buildings to be ochre in color,” Weiss said.
A highlight of the trip for Strom was joining the local Jewish community at the Gueliz synagogue in Marrakesh for Friday evening services.
“The people there knew the prayers by heart. The strength of the oral tradition in that community was quite moving,” said Strom.
Strom and Coffman are not affiliated with Ramah or the Conservative movement, and heard about the trip from friends. They nonetheless said they felt warmly welcomed by members of the group who had sought a specifically Conservative Jewish atmosphere.
“Tefillot (prayer services) were an option on the trip, and the kashrut aspect was important to us,” said Sheldon Disenhouse of Toronto, who participated with his wife Lori.
Disenhouse is immediate past president of the National Ramah Commission and a former president of Ramah Canada. Before becoming NRC president, Disenhouse served as vice president for Israel programs.
“I knew the people who would be running the trip, and that gave me confidence,” Disenhouse said.
The right balance was struck between exploring the Jewish history of Morocco and learning about Jewish life there today.
“The history of the Jewish community there is actually much more positive than I believed. I thought the Jews were chased out of Morocco in 1948, but they weren’t,” Disenhouse said.
However, the vast majority of Moroccan Jews have emigrated and the remaining community is dwindling. Only a couple of thousand are left.
“I really enjoyed meeting with and hearing from the young Moroccan Jews in their 30s and 40s about their lives, and also meeting the young Muslim woman who is the curator of the Jewish museum in Casablanca,” Disenhouse said.
Several months post-trip, participants are enjoying their memories and souvenirs from Morocco. They also recommend the trip to others and look forward to more opportunities to travel with Ramah Israel.
“If I hear that Ramah is doing a trip to a country I want to visit, like India or Ethiopia, I’m putting my deposit down right away,” Weiss said.