Oujdah, a city on the border of Algeria, is not a tourist town. It is not a place that you would come unless you had some sort of business here. Our business (which was actually a pleasure rather than business!!) was to meet with Boaz’s parents, Ann and Yehudah, and join Yehudah on a journey to trace his roots.
It was a special time to be here with Yehudah (as well as Ann and Boaz of course!) who was born in Oujdah and then at age 5 immigrated to Israel with his family. His excitement in returning to his birthplace was palpable and as we walked through the streets he recalled what memories he had from that very young age. We saw Oujdah through his eyes and felt connected to this place through his connection. It was also so nice to experience the generosity of spirit and willingness to help from the local residents as we traipsed around looking for answers to very old questions.
After a bit of trial and error, and the luck of finding a 90 year old neighbour who remembered Yehudah’s parents, we found the house Yehudah grew up. We were lucky enough to be allowed inside. We wandered around the 3 room home and up onto the balcony where Yehudah played as a child. The house has now been turned into a home textile factory, with a few men diligently sitting at sewing machines. At first Yehudah thought that there had been renovations done, a wall created in the living room, but after a few moments he realised that it just looked much much bigger through 5 year old eyes.
We also visited the large run-down synagogue, one of the few remnants of the rich Jewish life that once existed here. On arrival the door was locked and crates were stacked at the entrance. Yehudah, using his proficient Moroccan Arabic, made some inquiries with the neighbouring cafe as to the whereabouts of the key, and low and behold, 10 minutes later an elderly woman arrived with the key to the front door. All of a sudden the crates were gone and someone was sweeping outside the entrance. The woman explained that she was a volunteer who was entrusted with the key. Unfortunately the rest of her intriguing story about how she came to have the key and be the synagogue caretaker was lost in translation. Inside, the blanket of dust and pigeons flying were a telling sign that we were the first visitors for quite a while.
The most exciting part of our visit here was that Yehudah was able to get a copy of his birth certificate (as well as others from his family) finally putting to rest the life long question as to the exact date of his birth. It turned out that he had guessed correctly all along. We celebrated with artichokes, Yehudah’s favourite!