This Shabbat

Today I cried in a molding synagogue.

One where they made me pay to get in,

where the terrace overlooked 12,000 (mostly unmarked) graves.

They say the Jewish community is still alive here but

Even the crumbling Torah felt like death.

The surrounding houses had craters where mezzuzot once lay,

Some had been torn out, some cemented over.

I pressed my hand against the absences

kissing fingertips that had touched what-once-was.

 

This Shabbat I said the Shema alone,

Surrounded by the whispers of the empty pews,

Facing each other in Sephardi style,

The empty seats blessing each other’s children and

Saying mourner’s Kaddish for each other’s grandmothers.

 

One hundred families left in Fes, and none in the Jewish quarter.

The Mellah has been reduced to the bones of wooden balconies.

 

I only cried because it was so beautiful, so beautiful and so sad.

The keeper of the synagogue, now nothing but a monument, let me in holding her young son’s hand. She opened the ark to display the velvet edges of the Torah and her son jumped to grab the shining corners, pushing away the red fabric to reveal and nearly tear the wrinkled scroll.

 

So beautiful to be in a place of once-was-prayer,

so sad to see it barely breathing.

So beautiful to see the holy scroll,

so sad to know it means nothing to the children who live around it.

 

Across the world, as I write,

I hear my mother singing the Shema in front of a crowd

Gathered round an ark full of life.

I fill this empty space with the knowledge that in my life

I will find scrolls no longer left behind

And fill what one was with what can be.

 

This Shabbat I feel loneliness deep and solid in the palms of my open hands,

Searching blindly for siddurim that say mourner’s Kaddish for themselves..

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