Ismi Naima

I imagine that this is what living in a Shtetl felt like. There are clothes to wash and hang, cows to milk, dough to knead, dust to sweep, children to bathe, prayers to pray. I would say that the largest difference between Ait Hamza and a shtetl is the predominant religion, but I don’t think that’s it. The largest difference is that there is 3G Wi-Fi here.

When the call to prayer goes off, sometimes I cannot tell if the women are whispering to each other or praying to themselves, or both. Yesterday, as I walked along the outskirts of the village as the sun set over the Ait Hamza valley, which comprises of 5 or so small villages, the call to prayer began. I stood in the center of the valley amidst the villages, hearing at least a dozen Moadins begin the call to prayer. Not a single one sounded clear to me, and not a single one was not heard. The prayers messed into a cacophony as they swirled in the cradle of the mountains, intermingling with one another.

I imagine that as each sound wave of prayer passes another, it whispers in its ear, maybe a secret or a hope, and carries on through the valley.

Two nights ago, Mohammad, one of Kenza’s brothers and I had a conversation about religion. It was messy, especially given that he has not spoken English in 15 years. For the first time since I have been in Morocco, yet only for a moment, I felt tension about my religion. The conversation started when he asked me what languages I spoke and I told him that I spoke Hebrew. We talked about prophets and rabbis, him fixated on two facts; Moses was the ultimate prophet of the Jewish people and rabbis have changed the Torah. I tried to explain that the Tanach was comprised of Torah, Neviim and Katuvim, and that there were many many prophets. I also tried to explain that the Rabbis have not changed the Torah, but rather interpreted it, asked questions, argued with the words and the phrases, with each other, and sometimes even with god.

I only felt uncomfortable for the moment when he asked me why they would interpret it if the word of god was already there. Because I believe that Judaism is based on the asking of difficult questions, I answered with, Why not? My discomfort dissipated as his face reshaped into a curious smile. He then asked me if I believed in the story of Moses, of the exodus, with the implication of his belief of the holy stories as fact. I believe that there is truth in the story, but I do not believe that the story is wholly true, I answered.

The conversation was cut short by the need to clean and prepare for dinner, the kids to kiss and the tea to seep.

Last night we talked about names, and he asked me to write my name in Hebrew. I wrote, shmi Naomi, in Hebrew letters, left to right. In Arabic it would be, ismi Naima, almost identical in sound. In shock he gazed at the letters, so similar to Arabic, asking me if I was sure that Hebrew was written left to right. They are the same!!! He exclamation was filled with so much joy. We spent the rest of the evening talking about Hebrew and Arabic letters and sounds and similar words.

Shmi Naomi, Ismi Naima. They are the same.

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