- Spared Another Day
"Yalah! Yalah!" come closer! The voice of the Berber in his djelaba (Moroccan hooded overcoat) rises above the bustling crowd.
The year is 1959. Outside the ramparts of the old Jewish quarter in the city of Fez, also known as the mellah, is the market place. The souk is the traditional outdoor market where merchants sell everything from vegetables to items of clothing, vegetables, poultry and cattle. Under the dark and translucent fabric canopies, vendors display their wear on the ground and shout out to attract clientele. Only the waterman carrying gallons of water from a nearby spring, attracts his thirsty clients with the sound of a little bell. He carries the water in a sewn goat hide over his shoulder with a metal spout where the throat used to be, and a metal cup. Once in a while I have enough 'sous' to get the waterman to tilt his gourd and fill an ornate brass cup with water under the watchful and content eye of my father.
To accompany our father to the market is a privilege among my siblings. I recall those [End Page 108] occasions with affection. I pride myself in my ability to assist with the load of colorful woven panniers. We pass mounds of colorful spices displayed on burlap bags. The smells of cumin, turmeric and cardamom are intoxicating. I walk one step behind him for two reasons. The first is because it is so crowded that I need to grab on to his jacket with my free hand, the other reason is to watch for pickpockets. At nine years old, I am the right height for the job.
Today is a special day. It is the eve of Yom Kippur. The Day of Atonement when Jews around the world ask their fellow human beings and God for forgiveness for any offence they might have committed throughout the year. It is a day of fast, conducted almost entirely in prayers and followed by a substantial dinner at the end of the day. Our custom is to prepare a chicken as a symbolic sacrifice for our sins.
We reach the area where the chickens, turkeys and doves are being sold. The birds lay under the scorching sun, in bunches on the reddish soil, feet tied and beaks open. My father, with a humble smile, confides in me that this year he can afford a bird for each of us. Two grown chicken for Papa and Maman and one white dove for each child: Alice, Mathieu, Loulou and myself.
After a careful examination, he gently places the four handpicked doves in my basket and carries the chicken from their feet, upside down.
With a final customary bargaining of the price, we are heading to the kosher butcher towards the gate of the city.
I carry my bundle with care, as we weave a path through the crowd. To assure they have ample space to fold their wings, I wrap my arms around my basket and watch their silky heads bob in cadence with my small hurried steps. How white, delicate and beautiful they are! How helpless? Right then, I decide that I could not take them to the butcher and should set them free. I spread my arms and let the doves take to the sky. The sound and flutter of wings startles the crowd around us. It is our turn to hold our mouths open at the surprising and delightful sight of doves' flight. Their life is spared another day.
My father finally turns his head slowly and looks at me. I search his eyes, expecting some reproach. A faint smile lights his face, he is not angry! I detect the look of empathy behind the veiled faces and smiling eyes lined with kohl of the Arab women around us. He puts his hand on my shoulder, pulls me a little closer "We still have enough for all of us." [End Page 109]
Shulamit Lotate is a 56-year-old Moroccan Jewess, and proud parent of three. She immigrated to Israel at the age of fourteen, studied two years at the University of Haifa Philosophy and Fine Arts...