When Moroccan-born Israeli chef Mordechai Perez decided to visit Marrakech to search for his roots, he had no idea that he would also be making a career move, Haaretz reports.
“In short order, he would find himself the chief chef of Marrakech’s first-ever kosher hotel and restaurant, slated to open its doors this month.
“After my mother died, I left Israel,” relates the 44-year-old Perez. “A month ago, I came to Marrakech searching for my roots. I came and I stumbled onto this kosher hotel project.”
“When I got the job as head chef, I decided to stay.”
“He came to Marrakech, in part, to learn about his father’s legacy. “My father was the head of a village 75 km from here. He would come here every day because he was dedicated to the promulgation of Marrakech Jewish life.”
“Seated in the place his late father used to pray 60 years ago, Perez shares stories of the Jews who inhabited the Mellah in the beginning of the twentieth century. He is especially moved to be serving the same community which his father, Yaacov, served as rabbi.
“To the casual observer, the quarter where the hotel is situated reflects the Muslim character of Morocco, its narrow alleys flooded with children playing and elders fasting for Islam’s holy month of Ramadan. But on closer inspection, the true nature of the Mellah, the Jewish quarter – in essence, the Moroccan version of the ghettos of European cities – becomes clear.
“Many of the homes are still decorated with mezuzot and a wealth of other sacred Jewish symbols. “The sign of a Jewish home,” Perez sighs with nostalgia, referring to a mezuzah in a Muslim-owned house.
Today, Marrakech is home to 300 Jews out of the 2,000 in the whole of Morocco. Marrakech’s Mellah, once a vibrant shelter to those expelled from Spain after 1492, recalls an era in which both Jew and Muslim were involved in the salt and spice commerce, and both lived and prayed within the medina’s thick paprika-red walls.”