Almost a million Israelis - that's about one-in-seven - are of Moroccan Jewish descent. Israel has the second largest Moroccan diaspora (regardless of religion) after France.
Once Morocco had the largest Jewish population in the Islamic world - a community pre-dating the coming of Islam and indeed Christianity.
And today? There are about 2,000 Jews still living in Morocco - mainly in the commercial capital, Casablanca.
But this synagogue I visited recently is in Marrakesh - with a history dating back several centuries to the expulsion of Jews from Spain. It's just by the royal palace in a district known as the 'mellah', the name for a walled Jewish enclave ... to be found not just here but also in Casablanca, Fez and Tangiers.
This is one of the very few synagogues in Morocco which is still in use. I asked how many people attend sabbath services. 'Beaucoup', I was told. 'Plenty'. But on enquiring further, I was told maybe 20, or 15 or 10. So it's just keeping going.
The Laazama synagogue itself is small and dignified, with a pleasant courtyard. There's a small display about the history of the community and an array of religious items.
The area round the synagogue is a maze of narrow alleyways. The synagogue itself gets a steady stream of visitors - but otherwise this is not a tourist district at all, even though it's so central, but a working class residential area.
If you ever get to Marrakesh, do pop by!
What a joy to come across, quite by chance, a pub called 'The Temperance'. It's a bit like finding a vegan restaurant called The Steak House - or an old fashioned tea shoppe called The Slug and Lettuce - or a football team called Rugby - or a prime minister called Boris ... OK, I'm getting carried away here.
This once was the Temperance Billiard Hall - at the southern end of Fulham High Street on the junction with New King's Road. It is I assume a distant cousin to the similar institution I once chanced upon on Battersea Rise - but here in Fulham, they have made a virtue of the building's temperance pedigree rather than ignoring it. Class!
The building dates from 1910 - and the company behind these temperance (in other words, determinedly alcohol-free) billiard halls constructed a total of seventeen such premises up and down the country, all within a short burst of activity between 1906 and 1911.
It is now, I'm very pleased to say, Grade 2 listed.
The new usage is, of course, a total subversion of the original intent of the place. But one saving grace, you can still play pool here!
Gay's the Word - the pioneering LGBTQ+ bookshop on Marchmont Street in Bloomsbury - has on display a fantastic array of political badges. They once belonged to Paud Hegarty, the bookshop's manager for twelve years in the '80s and '90s who died in 2000. The story is told here - and in the panel which accompanies the display in the shop..
The badges (pins is the American take) were discovered in an attic eighteen years later - and rather wonderfully, the story of the badges, the causes and movements they celebrated and the man who collected them has a new lease of life.
I didn't know anything about Paud's pins until I chanced across them in Gay's the Word. With the shop's permission, I photographed the five displays and I'm posting them here without further comment. Enjoy!
What a rare delight! A small piece of stained glass, dating back a little more than a century, that nestles in the Shaw Library (more about that later) at the London School of Economics.
This is the Fabian Window - for many years missing, but now back where it belongs.
It was commissioned in 1910 by that archetypal Fabian, George Bernard Shaw - who features in it, top right, dressed in green; the man in red helping GBS hammer the world into shape is Sidney Webb, perhaps the most influential of the Fabians and - alongside his wife Beatrice Webb - a founder of the LSE; on the left working the bellows is Edward Pease, the secretary of the Fabian Society. There's a really good piece about the history of the window here.
The artist, Caroline Townshend, was herself a Fabian as well as a designer of stained glass of some distinction. And this is so charming, mischievous, self-mocking ... and so very English.
An array of prominent Fabians are shown kneeling at the foot of the window as if in prayer - though the books they appear to be revering are not holy scriptures but Shaw's plays and other similarly improving works. Sue Donnelly, the LSE archivist, has identified most of these 'worshippers':
The women are led by Maud Pember Reeves (1865-1953), founder of the Fabian Women’s Group and author of Round about a Pound a Week, who was married to the School’s third Director, William Pember Reeves. The figure at the far right is said to be Caroline herself. In between is Mary Hankinson (1868-1952), a gymnastics teacher claimed as the model for St Joan; Mabel Atkinson (1876-1958), who was involved in organising Fabian summer schools and later moved to South Africa; and Mrs Boyd Dawson author of a Fabian Tract on co-operative education.
The men include the actor manager, Charles Charrington (1854-1926); Aylmer Maude (1858-1938), translator of Tolstoy; George Stirling Taylor (died 1939) a lawyer and member of the Executive Committee; and Frederick Lawson Dodd (1868-?) who was the instigator of the Fabian summer schools. At the far left is the writer H G Wells. He is shown cocking a snook at his former colleagues in the Society following his failure to oust the old guard, including Shaw and Webb, from their leadership of the Fabian Society.
The window was unveiled at its new home at the LSE in 20o6 by ... Tony Blair. (My thoughts exactly!)
I discovered the Shaw library this week when visiting the LSE to hear Sachin Pilot, an up-and-coming Indian politician and the deputy chief minister of his home state of Rajasthan. He is a rising star in a sinking party (he's a member of the Indian National Congress) - and among the most impressive, articulate and sincere of Indian political figures.
I knew Sachin's father, the late Rajesh Pilot - indeed I travelled with him around Kashmir when he was India's internal security minister in the mid-1990s. And I first met Sachin when (I guess) he was still in his teens and did a brief internship in the BBC bureau in Delhi. He described me the other day as his first boss!
And peering down on Sachin Pilot in the Shaw library - yes, that's Sidney Webb. There's a portrait of him and his wife which takes pride of place in the room - which also boasts a stylish glass cupola and (perhaps uniquely for a library!) two Steinway grand pianos.
You may have assumed that the LSE's Shaw library, bearing the Fabian Window which George Bernard Shaw commissioned, was named after the great GBS. Wrong! It takes its name from his wife, Charlotte Shaw, an important benefactor to the LSE in its early years. Her maiden name was Charlotte Payne Townshend - but as far as I can make out she's no relation to the Townshend who designed and made the window.
Talking of which, let's have another look at it - along with an adjusted close-up which reveals the titles of the books so reverently placed among between the two lines of kneeling Fabians -
An eye-catching piece of street-art has come up on Highgate Road ... but if you want to see it, don't hang around.
It's on a new hoarding on the site of a long-disused garage and petrol station close to the junction with Chetwynd Road. An up-market apartment block is to be built here.
NW5's street artists must hardly have been able to believe their luck when the hoarding went up. But word is it's about to be replaced by bespoke hoarding extolling the virtues of the development it's screening from public view.
That's a pity - because this more-classy-than-average street art is a lot more colourful and worthy of attention than an outsize sales pitch.
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