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Underground in Morocco

In January 2001, Gloria Becker Marchick returned from a Fulbright Lectureship in Morocco. She had unwillingly gone underground as a Jew during her several months there, intimidated by the tensions the most recent Intifada had stirred up. The events of 9/11, however, changed all that.

September 13, 2001

Dear Mrs. Gloria:

I don’t know what to say: I’m really sorry for what happened yesterday to the American people, but what I, you or any body else can do. Its destined to happen at that time, in those places and to those innocent victims. Sorry again, me and every one in my family and those who believe that those victims are innocent and don t have any relation with what the American authority does in different places in the world, present our condoleances to the American peole in general, and to the families of those who died in particular

Believe me, I was really afraid tat something terrible happen to u or to some of ur family God forbids ; I was at work when the attacks occurred, when somme body told us that the American states were attacked. I ve been assured only when I knew that the attacks were only in NY and Washington. It’s true that the American authority is making errors by standing by the side of the Hebro state, but I m convinced that the American people is innocent from that, and I m sure that there r people who believe in peace and harmony in the world.

God Bless

Your faithful student Abun,

Sorry again. I’ll be waiting for your message.

The time had arrived when I must confess. I was in the safety of my home, my family and my country. I could not allow this attitude to go unnoticed or uncorrected. I sat down at my computer and composed the following letter. My Jewishness was subjugated to my American being and we were being victimized not because of being on the side of the “Hebro” state but because there were madmen who hated our power, our freedom and our democracy. They would not destroy us.

September 16, 2001

Abun, my dear student,

I received your e-mail telling me how you worried about my country and me. I so appreciated the time it took to write and the love that I read in your letter We had a wonderful few months at the university studying US History and going on excursions with Brahim, Bahia. Drissa and the other students from our class. I will never forget those times.

Historical events happened while I was in your country and I witnessed yet another Intifada in the land the Palestinians and Israelis both claim as their own I watched Arab TV and then CNN and the BBC. The coverage of these events was different and here was my problem—I had to resolve what the “truth ” was.

I hope you comprehend the information in this letter because it is an important letter for me to write. I think it began when I applied for the Fulbright Lectureship that sent me to Morocco. I was so honored to receive this and then people asked why I had chosen Morocco. In case you don ‘t recall this specific lecture, let me repeat that during World War II, the only three heads of stale in the world to stand up to Hitler were King Carol of Denmark, King Bruno of Bulgaria, and King Mohammed V of Morocco. Hitler and the Vichy government demanded that the Moroccan Jews be delivered to him and your king defiantly replied, “I have no Jews. I have only Moroccan citizens.” What amazing courage.

Because of this, I, as a Jew, decided to go to Morocco to teach and learn about this fascinating Islamic country that had allowed Jews to live and thrive during these terrible times. However I did not have the prescience (foresight) to know that there would be an Intifada. I had no intention of hiding my, Jewishness. The first four weeks I was in Morocco, I lived in Fes, went to the .synagogue, and celebrated the Jewish New Year with the students and staff at the Arabic Language School.

But then, the Intifada broke out and my Arabic friends at the school told me not to broadcast my Jewishness. Now, what did that mean? It meant that I could not go to the synagogue in Tanger It meant that when you asked me if I were a Muslim, I could not answer, “I am Jewish,” but instead, merely said, “No, I am not a Muslim. Je suis croyante.” 

Luckily, no one ever said, “What religion are you?” because I do not think I could have lied directly to your face. This was painful for me.

I watched the protests. I watched the killings on TV I listened to students tell me that they would go to Israel and be suicide bombers. I listened to the noon news in Arabic in the taxis. I cried. I worried. I cried some more. The history class you were part of was a wonderful class. I tried to tell you what America is. I wanted you to see that in America, while it is not perfect, Jews, Christians and Muslims live in the same neighborhoods. My daughter Patti’s best friend Hannan is the daughter of a Palestinian named Al Nadar It is not perfect here but we do live in a peace, a false peace perhaps, but peace.

So now our bubble has been shattered by the crash of four hijacked airplanes. Thousands of lives have been destroyed and the amount of money and property’ lost is incalculable. Today, no one knows what tomorrow will bring except we know it will not be good. We know there will be no peace. The attack was the act of evil people who do not .speak for Islam. The attack was committed by people who believe that killing wins a war

…The flames you saw on the TV were flames of rage but they will never destroy the beauty of our American dream that allows all of us, no matter how different we are, to live together and all of us to feel like Americans.

I hope you understand that this letter is to help you see me as I really am and know that no matter what, I treasure your friendship and the love you and your family showed me when I was a guest in your country. Even though I came to you as a teacher, it was I who was the student.

Thank you for sharing your country, your life and your family with me.

Salaam and Shalom.

Fondly, Gloria

The letter was written and I had “come out.” Yet I felt no great relief. It was just another e-mail. Maybe I felt confident that Ismael and my other friends would never hear from Abun because professors and students don’t mix as I did. They barely exchange greetings outside of class. In subsequent e-mails Abun responded with a new line. He now loved Jews and the “Hebro” people. Every letter was signed with Salaam and Shalom. I would never again hear how he truly felt and this was all right.

Excerpted with permission from Shalom in My Heart Salaam on My Lips: A Jewish Woman In Modem Morocco by Gloria Becker Marchick. (Micah Publications, 2003, www.micahbooks.com)