Friday, March 31, 2023

Passover Preparations Through the Ages

In Jewish homes across America and the rest of the world, energetic if not frenzied preparations are underway for the start of Pesach next Wednesday eve. So it was not surprising to read an article in The Forward, the “American news media organization for a Jewish American audience,” about Jewish Union soldiers frantically organizing a seder during a lull in Civil War fighting in West Virginia ( 

How touching that the holiday that celebrates the Israelites’ release from bondage in Egypt would be commemorated during the war to free the enslaved from servitude in the South.

Yet, I am reminded of an even more unusual seder observance, the type organized in colonial Charleston, SC, by Jewish merchants, “merchants” being code word for slave traders. As Gilda and I learned from a Jewish tour guide during our visit to Charleston a few years ago, the merchants would conduct their seders with their personal slaves sitting around their table as participants. How surrealistic that must have been for their slaves to hear, though probably not fully comprehend, the Hebrew text recounting the exodus story.

There could be no glossing over the story of slavery and freedom as described in the haggadah. 

Other slaves, slaves not owned by Jews, were exposed to an edited version of the Bible. As Sharon Braus recounted in The New York Times a year ago, they were read Bible stories from a “Slave Bible” that was “carefully redacted to exclude all references to the Exodus from Egypt. Imagine a Bible with no Moses, no burning bush, no Israelites fleeing slavery, no split sea and no revelation at Sinai” (

Charleston, for those not familiar with the city, was a major port for inbound slaves. Forty percent of the near half million souls who survived the barbaric, inhumane voyage as cargo from West Africa across the Atlantic Ocean on a journey from freedom to slavery in colonial America and the nascent United States came to our shores through Charleston (another 12 million were sent to South American and Caribbean lands). Charleston was considered the richest city in the New World until the importation of slaves was halted by Congress in 1808.

In the days before Passover begins, foods and utensils considered to be hametz—foods with leavening agents and kitchen housewares that prepared and served them—are being segregated in cupboards while, through a peculiarly Jewish workaround, they are “sold” to a gentile for the duration of the holiday and “bought back” at its conclusion. Rabbis creatively ruled that the prohibition on eating and possessing hametz did not forbid its presence in a household as long as it was sealed off and not “owned” by the family. 

Most of the time the hametz is communally sold by a rabbi or sextant. In Morocco, as Gilda and I recently learned, Jews individually sold their hametz to their Islamic neighbors. At the conclusion of Passover, when the food would be returned the Jewish and Moslem families would get together for a feast, a mimouna, validating their friendship and peaceful coexistence.

Jewish law is not monolithic. Different rabbis divine different rules. Geography could inspire local interpretations. Take, for example, the status of the lowly green pea. Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews generally avoid peas and other legumes on Passover. Sephardic Jews do not. 

For more than 60 years my family refrained from eating beans, rice, corn and peas on Passover. Several years ago the Conservative movement lifted any prohibitions on eating those foods during the holiday. I couldn’t be happier (

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Tokyo's Cryptic Street Address System Explained

The mystery of Tokyo’s street address system has been unravelled by Stephen Banker, a fellow recent tour traveler to Morocco and, coincidentally, a sojourner in Tokyo during the Forseter Family trip there in 1991.

Pardon the pun, but this is the best type of “crowd sourcing.” Here’s Steve’s explanation:

“It happens I was living in Tokyo when you visited in 1991 (I was there for two years), and I learned my way around. Yes, the addresses can be mystifying, but I think I can demystify it for you:


 “You probably already know that there are a number of ‘kus’ in Tokyo (17?). We might think of them as boroughs. Within each ku there are neighborhoods, each having a name and distinct borders. Each neighborhood is further broken down into districts of only a few blocks each. These districts are numbered. 

“Within each numbered district, each block has a number. Each building on the block has a number, which you point out are NOT in geographic (numerical) order. I was told they are in chronological order. 

“As a block was developed, the formerly empty lot was given the next number not previously used. So every address has the ku, the neighborhood and three numbers: the district, the block and the building number. 

“For example, my address was 4-1-12 Minami Azabu (the neighborhood), Minato-ku, Tokyo.  

“(The system was ) not developed to confuse invaders, but certainly effective. 

“Maps are essential. In fact, many people (at least the ex-pats) have personal cards with a small map on the back to show the location of their home. 

“But in one sense this address system of sequential narrowing-down is quite effective—especially when compared with the numbering system of Manhattan’s avenues, which are indeed numerically consecutive, but absolutely no help in finding the cross street (unless you know the secret code and do the math).


“BTW, the Imperial Palace is at the center of the maze that is Tokyo, which I understand WAS intended to deter invaders.”

When I commented to Steve that getting around Tokyo was difficult even when taking a taxi—one time we showed our taxi driver a piece of paper with the address we were going to only to have him shake his head. Seems he could not read, Steve responded, “That surprises me, as the literacy rate is extremely high. Many/most also can read English, but not speak it or understand spoken English. Some taxi drivers just want nothing to do with ‘gaijin’ (a pejorative word for foreigners), as they’re more trouble than they’re worth.”


Monday, March 27, 2023

Two Passings Linked to My Past

In case you missed his obituary, one of the most successful retailers of his country, indeed of the world, Masatoshi Ito, died earlier this month. Ito founded Ito-Yokado, a Japanese conglomerate of retail formats including department stores and supermarkets but most prominently 7-Eleven stores in more than 80,000 locations worldwide. The company is now known as Seven & I Holdings (

I wouldn’t normally tax you with the passing of an international retail executive but in this case I have a personal stake in this story. 

Back in 1991, just as Ito-Yokado was embarking on its global convenience store quest, as editor of Chain Store Age I was invited to Japan to interview Ito and his top executives including Toshifumi Suzuki who had championed the company’s initial foray into the convenience store market and oversaw its expansion in Japan and beyond. The company had just bought majority control of Dallas-based Southland’s 7-Eleven convenience store chain. 

When I met Ito and Suzuki, their company had revenues of $13.9 billion. At Ito’s death, they were $74.5 billion. 

The interviews became the pretext for a family vacation for Gilda and our two kids, Dan, then 13, and Ellie, soon to be 10. It was a learning experience about Japan, with many lessons still applicable today.  

Take, for example, Japan’s anemic birthrate that had and continues to have major economic implications because of the resulting labor shortage. Our family’s twenty-something guide related how she and her contemporaries were in no rush to marry and have children. They sought professional careers. They did not want to become stay-at-home moms eating traditional fish and rice dinners while their husbands ate and drank Western fare in restaurants paid for with corporate credit cards, part of their expense accounts that commonly equalled their salaries. 

We observed another possible explanation for delaying marriage. Japanese men had four passions: sumo wrestling, playing pachinko (a vertical pinball game), reading comic books and drinking. 

Thirty years ago Japan had a full employment economy. That could be easily observed in any department store. Greeters bowed to shoppers at the top and bottom of every escalator and elevator ride. Each purchase would be handled by four clerks, one to take the product from the customer’s hand, a second to ring up the sale, process the payment and return any change, a third to wrap the merchandise, a fourth to hand the wrapped purchase to the customer and bow in appreciation. 

Women’s status was so stunted that even if the highest executive at a meeting was female she was still expected to serve tea to all the men. Men did not defer to women, or children, when entering an elevator. They would push Gilda, Dan and Ellie aside to scramble in first.

It was near impossible to lose one’s paycheck. Our sister publication, Chain Store Age Japan, was dissatisfied with one of its editors. He was not let go. Rather, he was reassigned to head up the circulation department despite no background in that field.  

Back then Tokyo was barely navigable to English-speaking visitors. Few signs were in anything but Japanese. Even more daunting was the hodgepodge street address system. Actually, there was no system. Numbers did not progress up or down in sequence. They were randomly placed: 25 could be next to 300; 4 next to 52. Perhaps it was a carryover from a wartime defense strategy meant to confuse any invader. I never found out why, but my admiration for the Japanese postal service remains admirable. 

“Bomb-y” Weather: Jim Mellen died in February. He was an original member of the Weathermen, a radical group of mostly young, left-leaning idealists in the 1960s-70s. The Weathermen were the progenitor of the Weather Underground, a more violent cult bent on disrupting society. Mellen did not belong to the Weather Underground, but as Mark Twain said, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

This story begins on Saturday night, March 1, 1975. Gilda and I had just gone to bed in our Seymour, Conn., apartment when our pre-cell phone landline phone rang around 11:35 pm. My boss was calling, asking why I was going to sleep when half of nearby downtown Shelton, my reporter’s beat, was on the verge of being wiped off the face of the earth. Bombs had exploded inside the 475,000-sq.ft. Shelton Sponge Rubber Products Co. Plant 4 along the Housatonic River. It was, and possibly still is, the largest case of industrial arson in the United States.

I quickly dressed and drove the several miles to Shelton. Firemen and equipment, most from volunteer fire departments, converged on Canal Street from more than 20 neighboring towns. As the two-city-block-long factory burnt to a crisp shell, rumors started circulating. It was the work of radical Weathermen, it was said. 

Turned out the arsonists had kidnapped three plant employees and while tying them up safely in a woods in an adjoining town, one said they were part of the Weather Underground. It didn’t make sense. The plant was not vital to the Vietnam War effort. It made pillows and mattresses and other foam rubber products. But the reference to the Weathermen brought the FBI into the investigatory mix.

Within days authorities traced the suspects to a rented yellow Ryder van used to transport 500 pounds of dynamite and 24 55-gallon drums of gasoline into the factory. Among the 10 arrested were Charles D. Moeller, president of the company, and David D. Bubar, a Baptist minister and self-proclaimed psychic who counseled Moeller. 

The government alleged Moeller’s purchase of the plant from B.F. Goodrich the year before had financially strapped him. To relieve the burden, Moeller, under Bubar’s influence, had financed the arson, it was charged.

Moeller twice beat the rap, in federal and state court, though a civil trial found him responsible (much like the O.J. Simpson situation), thus absolving his insurance company from any requirement to pay $68 million in damages on the building and its contents. Bubar, on the other hand, was found guilty of second degree arson. He served six and one-half years of a 20-year sentence. Seven other defendants also served time. The tenth was acquitted.

As spectacular as the fire was, the real tragedy of that night 48 years ago was the impact it had on the lives of the plant’s workers (estimates ranged from 900 to 3,000) and their families. The business never came back. The site was turned into a waterfront park. Once a thriving manufacturing city, Shelton has become a sought-after bedroom community north of Bridgeport and northwest of New Haven.  

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Battling for Patio Supremacy

The perennial battle for patio supremacy has been joined. The spring-summer contretemps with nature over exactly who has ownership rights to our retractable awning has begun anew. 

Each year as spring beckons I find myself engaged in a continuous pas de deux with sparrows over their nesting habitats. The birds prefer the corners of our awning superstructure, directly above the doors at each end of our side patio. I prefer they find different locations. 

Daily I clear away their nests. Eviction is necessary before they get too comfortable and lay eggs.

Don’t bother suggesting I deploy metal spikes that claim to keep birds away. I installed them two years ago. They don’t work. They just make it more difficult to weed out the nests as the birds pack in bits of shrubbery in the spaces between the spikes. 

Perhaps spikes are useful to keep pigeons from roosting, but they are useless when dealing with sparrows. 

At a wedding in New Jersey last Sunday overlooking lower Manhattan, instead of concentrating sufficiently on the ceremony my attention was drawn to a pair of sparrows at the window directly above the ceremonial canopy. Two sparrows were building a nest among the spikes intended to keep them away from the venue’s windows. 

I’ve sought relief from the company that installed our awning, but as the installer noted, it is difficult to control the nesting instincts of birds when your yard invites their presence with feeders and bird baths. 

Three times over the last few weeks I treated the backyard birds to international treats: biscotti, Hamantaschen, and good old American chocolate chip cookies. Let’s call it a culinary experiment. Which delicacy would the birds prefer?

My unscientific experiment found biscotti to be their clear favorite. They swarmed the feeding tray, feverishly pecking away at the Italian cookies. Next in favor—chocolate chip. More than a day passed, on the other hand, before the feathered gang pecked and gobbled up the Hamantaschen (just the crusty dough, the fruit center having been removed). 

Earlier this week I removed several feet of spikes from the corners of our awning superstructure. The birds have tried to form nests, but without the spikes I have an easier time clearing out their construction. I’m not proud of denying them squatting rights, but at least I am providing food and water for them. 

Mileage Update: It’s been five months since I started driving a plug-in hybrid car, a Ford Escape. I’ve logged 2,944 miles. I am averaging 116 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent). For my last gas tank refill I recorded 177.5 MPGe. Not bad.

The plug-in hybrid qualified for a federal tax credit of $6,873. Not bad, indeed! 

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

A Shining Moment Known as Camelot

If you’re from the New York City region who’s been watching ads on television lately, or leafing through the Arts section of your newspaper, you no doubt have come across promotions for a new staging of Lerner & Loewe’s musical “Camelot.” Opening night was scheduled for Thursday.

Though Camelot is one of my favorite musicals, I won’t be going to the premiere. Not to worry. Whereas I do not recognize the names of any current cast members, I am content with my memories of the original Broadway ensemble that I saw perform at the Majestic Theatre. They included Richard Burton as King Arthur, Julie Andrews as Guenevere,  and Robert Goulet, making his Broadway debut, as Sir Lancelot. Supporting cast included Roddy McDowell, Robert Coote and John Cullum. 

For those not immersed in show business trivia, Burton was a respected British (Welsh, actually) actor who had never sung in a musical. He was several years away from international acclaim for his role in the movie “Cleopatra” and for his torrid years-long relationship with Elizabeth Taylor, his “Cleopatra” co-star. Andrews, meanwhile, bowled over Broadway four and a half years earlier as the original Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady.” Subsequent to being replaced by Audrey Hepburn as Eliza in the movie adaptation, she won an Oscar for her portrayal of Mary Poppins, before conquering the Von Trapps and evading Nazis in the celluloid version of “The Sound of Music.” 

I must have seen Camelot early in 1961 because I recall seeing two songs that were cut from the production a few months into the run to shorten the length of the play. I found both up-tempo songs to be exciting in their advancement of the plot, namely Guenevere’s attempt to stifle her infatuation with Lancelot by having other knights engage him in man to man combat (“Then You May Take Me To the Fair”), and the mounting frustration of the Knights of the Round Table with their sedentary, good-mannered life (“Fie on Goodness”). 

Some 30 years later Gilda and I attended a revival of Camelot with a then much older Goulet playing King Arthur. He was good, but not as good as Burton. 


Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Memories of Schooling and Buying

 Enough already!

Not everything I write has to be about Morocco. 

Two recent articles, one in the The New York Times, the other in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, kindled memories. 

Last Friday’s Times reported on a New York State legislative attempt to curtail corporal punishment in private schools, especially Hasidic Jewish religious schools where it was alleged students are regularly subjected to being “hit, slapped or kicked by their instructors” (

Now, I attended a private Hebrew school, Yeshiva Rambam, in Brooklyn, in the mid/late 1950s-early 1960s. To be clear, my school was not run by ultra Orthodox Hasidim. It was what we would now call Modern Orthodox. 

Nevertheless, some aspects of alleged current disciplinary tactics played out in my school. My second grade Hebrew teacher, Mrs. Mare, or more appropriately, Mrs. Nightmare, had a unique way of dealing with recalcitrant children. She would tightly pinch your nostrils for 10 seconds or longer. If you were really deserving of re-education, she would stand behind you, grab hold of your arms just above your elbows, pull them back towards her while sticking her knee into your back.

Of course her students complained to their parents. But as they were mostly immigrant or first generation parents, they sided with her, believing if we were disciplined we surely must have done something egregious to warrant corporal punishment.

Our third grade English teacher, Mrs. Schlesinger, educated us into the tribulations of solitary confinement. Her version of the modern day “time out” in the corner was to isolate an offender in a dark wardrobe closet in our classroom. Usually your term of sentence was 10 to 20 minutes standing in the dark, but one spring day Mrs. Schlesinger lost track of one of her inmates and left him inside his cell when dismissal came. So did the rest of the class. His parents were not amused when he failed to show up at home when the school bus made its normal stop at their door. Mrs. Schlesinger reluctantly agreed to more benign punishments after that incident.

Our seventh grade Hebrew teacher, Mr. Kulik, was real old school. That means he saw nothing untoward in some physical contact with students. He took a particular interest in Walter, a chubby, not overly ambitious or attentive student. His patience finally exhausted one day, Mr. Kulik decided to eject Walter from the classroom. Physically eject him. He literally decided to throw Walter out the door. Trouble was, the door was closed. Walter, being round and pudgy, bounced off the door right back into Mr. Kulik’s arms. Only after two or three repeat tossings and rebounds did Mr. Kulik finally realize it was not Walter being insubordinate that kept him coming back time and again. I should note that throughout this ordeal Walter was laughing.

Fingering the Goods: The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, via New York Jewish Week, reported last week on the installation of a mezuzah at the entrance of an American Eagle Outfitters store in New York’s Times Square. When Gilda told me of the article’s headline, “Why American Eagle now has a mezuzah at its Times Square flagship,” I immediately advised is was because AEO was owned by the Schottenstein family of Columbus, Ohio (

Back in the early 1990s I made an advertising sales call on First Data Corp. in Columbus, Ohio. I was meeting with three marketing executives who abruptly, but nicely, advised they had to end our discussion because they had to rush out to their local Schottenstein’s store as they had just been informed a new shipment of dresses had arrived.

You see, Schottenstein’s was an off-price retailer of all types of general merchandise, scooping up excess inventory from manufacturers or beleaguered retailers. 

These women knew their bargains. They understood that the values Schottenstein procured would not sit around too long in the store. It was necessary to act, quickly. 

Having never been in a Schottenstein’s till then, I felt it was incumbent on me as the editor of Chain Store Age to visit the store to round out my first hand knowledge of the retailer which at that point had not ventured into the New York metropolitan market with its Value City chain. 

Value City and Schottenstein’s were identical stores in everything but name. The Schottenstein family, residents of Columbus, were Orthodox Jews. They knew they could not sustain a profitable retail enterprise if their stores were closed on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath. They also knew it would sustain a black eye if fellow congregants saw Schottenstein stores open on Saturdays. So they devised a workaround

In Columbus, they kept the family name on three stores  that were closed on Saturdays. But elsewhere, they named their stores Value City, open seven days a week. 

In that pre-GPS era, I wandered around before finally finding a Schottenstein store. Sure enough, the ladies were right. I wound up buying two suits, a summer weight poplin ($40) and a three season Hardy Ames wool suit ($80).


My father rarely complimented me on any of my purchases. He bought his suits and sports coats wholesale. Though I did the next best thing by buying off-price, he never acknowledged my shopping acumen. 

As I was driving him one day he asked about my recent business trips. We talked about the Schottenstein family of which he was familiar because of their buying power in the apparel field. He was, after all, an apparel manufacturer.

I told him about my purchases at Schottenstein’s and that I was wearing the wool suit. He instinctively reached out to touch the end of my suit sleeve. Rubbing his fingers together he said, “Ah, the Schottensteins sell good suits.” 

I accepted the compliment without further comment. 

Friday, March 3, 2023

Cats, Donkeys, Storks, Polygamy & Couscous

Walk the streets of any Moroccan community and you will see scrawny feral cats. But few dogs, stray or leashed.

It’s by design.

A dog’s barking is thought to chase away good spirits from a home. Hence, their exclusion. Felines, on the other hand, carry the legacy of the divine, as a cat was among the gods venerated in ancient Egypt. 

If a dog sits on a prayer rug it must be cleaned before use. No cleaning is required if a cat sits on a prayer rug. 

Donkeys are a favored form of conveyance for both people and material. A donkey can be trained to walk on its own to designated points. Indeed, the U.S. Army purchased Moroccan donkeys to supply troops and villages in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan. 

When visiting Marrakech look up, to the tops of fake palm trees serving as communication towers. There you’ll find large nests of storks that annually make a pilgrimage to Marrakech. They return each year to enlarge and refurbish the same nests. 

The number of storks is dwindling because global warming is interfering with their internal guidance systems.

Storks are monogamous, staying faithful to one spouse even after its death.

Moroccan men, on the other hand, may be polygamous as permitted by the Koran. Sharia law that allows a man to have as many as four wives at a time. 

Modern Moroccans sought to end polygamy without contradicting Sharia law. In 2004 a law restricted a husband’s ability to expand his betrothed. It granted permission if three conditions were met: the husband could demonstrate reasonable need of another wife, such as the failing health of his first wife; he could provide evidence of his financial ability to support multiple families; and, perhaps most difficult, he obtained written permission from his first wive(s). 

Less than 1% of Moroccan men practice polygamy. For those who do, it is customary that the Number One wife is determined by the first to deliver a male child. 

Moroccan Trivia: Morocco boasts the highest per capita number of olive trees. Its population of near 38 million cultivates 400 million olive trees.

Morocco produces 20% of its energy needs from solar power, 10% from wind.

Couscous is Morocco’s signature food, as our group found out during the recent Temple Israel Center of White Plains-Keshet Educational Journeys tour of the country’s Jewish heritage. 

Each meal prepared by various hosts of the Jewish communities we visited began with an assortment of Moroccan salads—eggplant, beets, cole slaw, carrots, potato, cucumber and more—followed by a huge tagine of steamed vegetables sitting on mounds of couscous, enough to feed the proverbial Russian army. But that was just the beginning. Platters of beef replaced the tagine, to be, in turn, replaced by platters of chicken, the prelude to platters of fresh fruit. 

Thursday, March 2, 2023

The Complexity of Morocco

Perhaps no place better expresses the complexity of Morocco than Al Akhawayn University. Nestled in the Mid-Atlas mountains in the Alpine-looking town of Ifrane near Fes, the university presents to the first time visitor the appearance of a Swiss canton with structure after structure topped with A-frame roofs covered by bright orange ceramic tiles. 

Founded in 1995 by King Hassan II, Al Akhawayn is a vibrant example of the kingdom’s emphasis on Western culture even as it embraces its Moroccan heritage. The university is formatted on an American liberal arts college model, offering degrees in the Humanities, Social Sciences, Engineering and Business Administration. Classes are in English.

The 2,000-plus co-ed students come from all parts of Morocco, mostly from middle class or better households. Amazingly, one quarter of the student body belongs to Mimouna, a non-profit association created in 2007 “by 10 Muslim students to promote and preserve the Jewish-Moroccan heritage.”

Mimouna derives its name from a long-held Passover practice in Morocco. Prohibited by their religion to consume grain-based foods known as hametz during the eight day Passover holiday, Jews would entrust their hametz to their Islamic neighbors. When the food would be returned the Jewish and Moslem families would get together for a feast, a mimouna, validating their friendship and peaceful coexistence.

For years Morocco has had a discreetly friendly relationship with Israel compared to the antagonism exhibited by other Arab countries. But then, Morocco does not consider itself a fully Arab entity. 

Morocco was a Berber stronghold. Islam came to Morocco in the early 8th century incorporating Berber customs. Decades later a Moroccan king was the first to declare independence from the caliph of Baghdad. Too far to send an army to reverse the insult, the caliph sent an assassin, who was successful, but Morocco remained outside his domain. 

Morocco’s location on the western edge of North Africa also contributed to its ability to resist takeover by Turkey’s Ottoman Empire which expanded as far as neighboring Algeria. This quirk of history explains why, until about a decade ago, Moroccans did not eat humus and felafel, both considered Turkish foods. 

Of course, Morocco’s proximity to Western Europe led to its exploitation and conquest, in part, by Portugal, Spain and France.

The melting pot that is Morocco goes beyond Jewish-Muslim interaction. Morocco has three official languages: French, a vestige of its status as a colony of France from 1912 to 1956; Berber, recognition of the Berber tribes that have lived in the region for some 20,000 years; and Arabic, that is, Moroccan Arabic which is a different dialect than that found in other parts of the North African and Arabian world. 

Mokhtar, our guide during the recent Temple Israel Center of White Plains- Keshet Educational Journeys tour of Morocco, is a product of his country’s amalgamation. His mother—Berber; his father—Arab. 

There can be little doubt Jews played a significant role in Morocco’s history. While Jews in Europe were confined to ghettos, generally situated in the lowest part of towns because Christians thought they polluted their surroundings, in Morocco they were accorded space adjacent to nobility in a section of the enclosed fortress known as a Mellah. Mellah is the Hebrew word for salt. Jews were the salt procurers and traders of the kingdom, earning vast riches for themselves and the king. As such, a Mellah residence next to the king’s stronghold accorded them royal protection. Streets in the Mellah bear the names of Jewish luminaries. 

Salt was mined in the Atlas Mountains. Jewish merchants arranged caravans of 2,000 camels to transport the precious commodity from Fes to Timbuktu some 1,300 miles to the south. Eighty percent of the camels carried food, water, supplies, and armed guards for the 80 day journey. Salt was exchanged for spices and gold. 

It was that way for centuries, until in the late 1800s France sought to weaken Morocco’s economy by restricting caravan access to its territories in Algeria and French West Africa. Morocco eventually fell under French control in 1912. Morocco declared independence in 1956, six years before neighboring Algeria shed its French yoke. 

Mokhtar related that Jews also were among the most proficient ship builders, carpenters, tailors, tanners and other tradesmen of the realm. 

Shipbuilding might seem an odd occupation for Jews, but their expertise was important for a different enterprise not necessarily practiced by Jews—piracy.

Piracy and privateering have long been acceptable, even honorable, professions for coastal civilizations, from the Carthaginians to Elizabethan England to America in its wars with England to modern day Somalia. Jews assisted the Barbary pirates by building swift boats that could easily seek refuge in the river entry to Tangier near the Strait of Gibraltar.