Home LAST NEWS “Ziyara”: “Muslims who cry out of nostalgia for the Jews”

“Ziyara”: “Muslims who cry out of nostalgia for the Jews”


THEThe director’s van and her team crisscross the Moroccan roads and paths, in the footsteps of the Ziyara *, an Arabic word which designates pilgrimages, visits to the Saints. In Morocco, this practice is common to Muslims and Jews. The rich community of hundreds of thousands of souls until the 1950s now numbers around 2,000.

In Casablanca, when she touches the Torah, the Muslim curator of the Museum of Judaism pronounces the word of blessing “Bismillah”.

The guardian of the cemetery of Meknes learned the Hebrew letters to inventory in her notebook the names inscribed on the graves. In Demnate, the founder of a small museum on the history of the High Atlas recalls, with tears in his eyes, departure and exile. All of them express an attachment to the Jews and to Moroccan Jewish culture. Simone Bitton filmed the contemporary nostalgia of those who preserve a thousand-year-old heritage. She confided in Africa Point.

The Africa Point: You open the film on an unusual setting when you think of Morocco: the gray sky, the rain, puddles. Was it a desire to show another face of the country?

Simone Bitton: Not really, it was not planned. It was in May, I thought the weather was going to be nice. And then it rained and the funny thing is that it rained a lot during the shoot, including July. But for someone who comes from a place where the rain is a blessing, it sets the tone. This is the baraka. And she followed us to Debdou too, it was very cold, it was late October, it wasn’t supposed to be that cold and everything was wet.

My team, which was entirely Moroccan, told me all the time: “We have the baraka, it rains everywhere we go, there is a little cloud above your head. And then the skies are still more beautiful when it rains.

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The Morocco that you film is very much that of the countryside, which we also rarely see …

Yes. There are a lot of shrines in the movie. At first, my idea was to go only to shrines. Afterwards, I expanded, including to a few secular places. Nine out of ten shrines are far away, they are places to go and they are in nature. So it’s a mountain, it’s a river, etc. They are often found in very remote places of Morocco that we are not used to actually seeing, but which is populated! This is not only Morocco, but it is very much. These are the rutted roads, the very outlying villages. It’s not just the Imperial Cities.

And then what is wonderful, I knew it, is to really feel that there were Jews everywhere. Even after 20 km of track, after the broken road 3 hours drive from Marrakech, there too, there were Jews. There too there was a Saint and often revered by Muslims and Jews. It is quite wonderful. So I didn’t do it for sociological reasons, but at the same time, I don’t mind at all because we see Morocco as it is today. Even when you make a film that talks about the past, the documentary always films the present. For 90 minutes, we almost only talk about the past, but we only see the present.

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While preparing for the film, you said you were trying to answer the question, “How have you been since we left?” “. The film has evolved, what explains this evolution?

It’s true that initially, and even during the shoot, people often told me about things that were, let’s say, off topic, but very interesting to me and that little of it was left in the film.

This “how are you” is “what has happened to Morocco since we left? “. That’s the question you ask when you see someone again after a long time, and I hope there is still some of that spirit left in the film. It also goes through the image. We see how the country is going, we see that there is something beautiful and that there is something out of whack. “How are you” is this child who is the daughter of a cemetery keeper, in an abaya at 10, but who wants to be a veterinarian. It did not exist when we left a little girl from this environment who wanted to be a doctor. But it is also this young woman who did two years of English literature and who does not find a job, it is the one who found herself to be a cemetery keeper because she is divorced, whereas she is educated.

I never had the idea of ​​making a film that was just nostalgia, cutesy. And I wonder if this great nostalgia does not also cover something else. There is a little “it was better before” side. When we are not doing very well, we tend to idealize the past. All of these are subtleties that we can or cannot see. This is not the heart of the film.

What is the heart of the film?

The heart of the film is very surprisingly the Muslims who cry out of nostalgia for the Jews. Who regret that we are gone. And that’s the heart of the film, because it’s true, I didn’t invent anything, and I’m happy to tell that today. I think it resonates with the present in a very strong way, I hope so anyway.

Were you surprised by this strong attachment of some for the Jews?

Surprise I don’t know, in any case it delighted me, it charmed me. In Meknes for example, Mohamed, whom everyone calls Med, is really a guardian of the temple.

He keeps everything, including the few remaining Jews, and that shocked me. It is a mission that he has given himself. He won’t let go. He will bury the last one. Besides, almost the first thing he shows me are the fabrics for the shrouds.

You say that you found your language during the scouting of the documentary. What has that changed?

I really thought I forgot about her. I thought I could still understand it a bit, but not be able to articulate a sentence, and then it came back. So she chipped my darija **, but it changed a lot of things for me, for them and for the movie.

For me, because when a language comes back to you, a whole world comes back. And then, being able to communicate directly with people… They are already very hospitable, but then there is no longer any barrier. You are there and you are at home.

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How would you say it changed the movie?

I think that this closeness is not only expressed by what people say, but that it is felt by the fact that we are between us.

It is the end of a thousand-year-old story. Where does hope lie?

The Jews of Morocco don’t like people saying that. They hang on. Yet there is a loneliness. Most of them are traditional, traditionalists. And to live as a traditional Jew, you have to have a community, a synagogue, a rabbi, kosher meat, etc. In Rabat for example, my hometown, which is still the capital of Morocco, the last remaining rabbi died of Covid. For the few families who remain in Rabat, this is a real problem. A lot of people left because of it. They left because there was no longer a community. They left to join a place where there is a Jewish community.

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We know very well that this is the end … And at least, so much the better that it is a place that knows how to preserve memory.

But the hope is not that the Jews will return. The hope is that Jews and Muslims will stop hitting each other, and not just in Morocco, but around the world. Hope lies in this little, real fable, which touches me personally, because it’s my story, it’s my country. One character says it very well: “A story of hope in a world full of hatred. “ Because everywhere you turn your eyes, there is an anti-Semite, an Islamophobe, a xenophobe. Me, I have this impression in any case, to begin to suffocate.

And then the thing that was left to us, including in exile, the proximity between Jews and Muslims in Créteil, Sarcelles, Belleville, seeing it in the process of decomposing. Jews and Muslims from the same immigration who are starting to hate each other, for me, it’s an aberration. The last haven of brotherhood from childhood that is decomposing before my eyes, it hurts me. I didn’t think that could happen. This movie is maybe a bit like a little raft to hang on to.

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Isn’t that a bit idealized? Wasn’t everything rosy either?

No, of course. All was not rosy between Jews and Muslims, and all was not rosy among Jews or among Muslims. But it is not a country, like others, where anti-Semitism is almost a foundation of identity, not at all. There was a generation of the astonishment of exile, of departure, and now I see a second generation of young people who themselves have not lived in North Africa having a renewed interest. To say to oneself, “all the same, we are Jews.” But our story is not a story of an argument, is not a tragic story. We did not leave to save our own skin. What I mean is that there is another Jewish experience besides that of uninterrupted tragedy. Here is. This story exists and it is terrifying, but it is not ours. We have another Jewish experience. Judaism does not equal persecution. Minority, of course, but not necessarily tragedy.

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* The documentary Ziyara has been in theaters since Wednesday 1er December

** Moroccan Arabic dialect

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