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Ihoukarne ⵉⵀⵓⴽⴰⵔⵏ

Ihoukarne ⵉⵀⵓⴽⴰⵔⵏ

I was always wishfully thinking to find more threads and connections to the village of my mother and my maternal family that originated from Ihoukarne, a small Amazigh village in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. I visited the village in 2019 for the first time, and with help from my mother and my aunts who guided me with fragments of signs and directions on how to get to this village, which back then in 2019, was not even showing up on Google Maps. In the village of Ihoukarne, there was a small Amazigh-Jewish community of fifteen families. The conversation and connection between two elders from the village of Ihoukarne: my mother and an elderly man in his 90s who was working in a field near the ruins of the Mellah. In an instant and intuitive act, I decided to FaceTime my mother and let her speak with the man, in the hope that they might know each other since the man said that he knew many of the Jews who lived in this Mellah. In the conversation that was recorded, they started exchanging names. At some point, the man asked my mother what her name and her family name were. My mother told the man that she left the village when she was very small, and then she asked him, “Do you know Ya3kub? Ya3kub Waaknin?” The man instantly said, “Yes, I know Ya3kub.” Then he asked my mother, “Are you the daughter of Zahra?” My mother said, “Zahra was my grandmother.” Here I am in a place I’ve never been before, meeting a man who knew my great-grandmother, whom I have never met, and this random man whom I met while walking in the village knows my great-grandmother. This was a very emotional experience for me. After the video conversation, the man took me into the ruins of the village, all crumbled with stones and broken walls, but the doors were still in place. He took me and pointed to each door, mentioning which family lived there. He knew the house of my uncles, the house of my grandparents, and the house of my great-grandparents. He also knew where the synagogue was. When we were standing in the ruins of the synagogue, the old man pointed toward a corner, and while his left hand was pointing, he used his right hand to pound on his heart while saying “Aleph, Amen.” What he meant was that this corner was a place where the children studied Torah and Hebrew. This brought tears to my eyes, the fact that he was able to transfer this memory to me through this gesture. But also, he didn’t know my talismanic relationship to the letter “Aleph.”

Walking among the ruins of the village was an emotional experience for me, filled with an intense feeling of connection and loss. Arriving at a place I had never been before, it still felt like a part of me. Witnessing the ruins, I could barely comprehend that this place, once full of life, was where my family lived. While in the ruins of the Mellah, I called my mother through FaceTime to show her the village of her childhood. I was excited to make this video and share the village with her, but I didn't consider how traumatic it would be for her to witness the ruins of what was once her home. After visiting the Mellah, a man from the village invited us to his home for tea. The grandmother was sitting outside, making wool thread with a stick, rolling the soft raw wool into a thin white thread wrapped around the stick into a bowl. I remembered a flash of memory about wool making in the village. I even remembered my mother demonstrating the same gesture of rolling the thread that I’m witnessing in front of me.

This hospitality is familiar. The daughters and the mother invited us inside. We were all sitting around a small, low table. The room was covered with soft wool rugs, and we were seated on the rugs around the table where mint tea, cornbread, almonds, and Argan butter were served. My Amazigh and Derija are broken, and I tried to communicate with them through fragmented words, using a dictionary app to find connecting words. I know the language because it was the language of my childhood home, but back then, we were not encouraged to preserve the Derija language. Truthfully, it was embarrassing for us, the second generation of Moroccan immigrants, who wanted to belong to a Hebrew society that was hostile and discriminatory towards Moroccan immigrants. However, my body remembered. In a miraculous process, I found myself recalling words, and suddenly, sentences were coming out of me. I was in awe of how I remembered words and sentences that I had never had the chance to say but remembered from listening to conversations at home between my parents, my grandmother, and the community in Netivot. The daughters of this man noticed this phenomenon, and I felt their joy when I began to talk. We spent several hours with the family, hugging and kissing each other before we departed.

The local driver who brought me to the village began to drive towards Agadir, where I was supposed to spend the night. I left the village heartbroken yet happy. I didn't want to leave because something profound happened to me there. I felt a deep, ancestral change inside me, but it wasn't enough. I felt the pain of separation again. I left with intense emotions, experiencing an overwhelming clash between the connection I felt and the traumatic experience of witnessing the ruins of the Mellah.

I didn't have enough time to discover more. I discovered the coexistence between those who welcomed me and those who had left the village. The villagers made me feel at home, like my Amazigh-Jewish community in Netivot. I left behind a man who knew my great-grandmother and needed more time and language to ask him what he remembered and to learn more from him. But it was a short visit, just like the Berber rug, woven with intense, constricting colors and feelings, between witnessing trauma, closure, rapture, and an indescribable belonging. For several years after my visit, all I had were the photographs and video documentation from that time. I moved through the world feeling that the only remnants of my coexistence and the cultural memory of the community of Ihoukarne were these documents and the gestures imprinted within me. Everything changed several years later when my cousin told me about another woman whose family came from this village. She had been visiting often and was in communication with the people of Ihoukarne.

What is the significance of witnessing and memory? Witnessing destruction, witnessing loss, and their effects on memory and identity construction? How do we remember? How does my act of witnessing affect my memory and identity? How does the act of witnessing performed by the elders of the village affect them, their memories, and their trauma? How can the act of witnessing be traumatic and painful, revealing displacement and loss? And how can this act of witnessing be a force to reconstruct and remember differently through artistic practice?

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