Milk & Blood
A Film Project by Noémie Hakim-Serfaty
inspired on Sultana Azeroual’s songs
Some leave so as not to die and it wasn’t my case. Was this the case with my paternal grandmother, Freha, when nearly all North African Jews left their ancestral land? Would they have almost all scampered away, leaving behind only the ghosts and the jnouns (spirits) who inhabit the cemeteries of the mellah (Jewish quarter), abandoned the joyful streets of their neighborhood, where, Freha says, everyone knew each other, and where we talked daily of the Talmud, if it wasn't a matter of life and death? Difficult to say because this subject, in my family, we do not talk about it. At a time when everything shifted for the Jews of the Arab world, we were history's toythings, many of us seduced by the promise of a better life, worried about the turn of things in our countries of origin, we rushed to a new world. Some left for Israel, that strange Zion stiffened into a Nation State, which would prove to be disappointing, far from being the sacred East of which our mystics sang the praises. For others, the horizon was France, which had already begun its work of civilization on us. The Western world seemed open, limitless, and many of us headed straight for this elsewhere, always further towards future and progress.
My grandmother Freha recounts in her memoirs her departure from Marrakech, she says that she never recovered, that when she arrived in France, she cried every day for several years: “how to leave this city
where we have known happiness, joy of living, happy days… ”
If since this departure we are several generations who have struggled to find a place on Earth to land, certainly it is not to flee a danger but rather the echo of a shock. A suffering that has not been named, and which keeps repeating itself. Exile.
What has been transmitted to us, the first children who were born elsewhere, is certainly the North African Jewish tradition, but also an unease, a fear that some of our traditions will be judged as retrograde by our adopted culture, whether amongst French seculars or Ashkenazi Jews. We are ignorant of much of the culture of our parents and grandparents, and we know even less of the women. My aunts seem to have experienced Westernization as an opportunity to have access to school and to emancipate. And when I ask one of them what has been transmitted to her from a Moroccan Jewish tradition of women, she makes me repeat it, then after an awkward silence asks me: "you mean, submission?". On the other hand, they also preserve gestures, practices and recipes, transmitted by their mother. My grandmother, in her memoirs, often evokes women skills and know-hows that seem to have been partially lost. The Judeo-Arabic dialect has not been transmitted to us, and we are hardly aware of its existence. For my part, I turned my back on this obscured past and headed for a dazzling horizon: the United States.
The feeling of exile grows stronger and stronger, like a lament, a refrain that my ancestors hum constantly in my ear. I dream of rediscovering a tradition and the know-how of women who accompany birth and becoming a mother, who celebrate its power. I dream of reweaving the rift that was torn with exile, of repairing the rupture in transmission that has in a sense stripped us of our power. Through a recurring dream, I relive the Moroccan Jewish magic rituals of protection of the mother and newborn, and I find a way out of the labyrinth of exile.