Bridging Time, Distance and Distrust, With Music

A documentary recently broadcast on Moroccan state television, “In Your Eyes, I See My Country,” which has been shown at festivals in Marrakesh and elsewhere, follows Ms. Elkayam and Mr. Cohen, her husband, on a trip to Morocco, including visits to their grandparents’ hometowns. It shows Moroccans embracing her, clutching her hand, even telling her that they remember the names of her grandparents.

Being an Arabic-speaking Jew, in both Israel and Morocco, means living with a complex, sometimes conflicting set of expectations, said Aomar Boum, an anthropologist at the University of California Los Angeles, who specializes in Jewish-Muslim relations. In the film, it is clear that Ms. Elkayam is “carrying a heavy weight,” he said. “It’s only the music that connects the dots.”

The film, which is scheduled to be shown next month at the Miami Jewish Film Festival, shows her and Mr. Cohen performing concerts for largely Muslim audiences, and it ends with him spending days in his family’s former village, where he dresses in traditional Moroccan clothes and country boys welcome him like a brother.

Kamal Hachkar, the film’s Moroccan director, said, “What touched me the most about Neta is that I quickly understood that she sang to repair the wounds of exile.” The documentary, he added, “is a way of defying the fatality of the large history which separated our parents and grandparents and that our generation can recreate links through music, which is a real common territory and melting pot for Jews and Muslims.”

The political context is inescapable.

“Singing in Arabic is a political statement,” Ms. Elkayam said. “We want to be part of this area, we want to use the language to connect with our neighbors. It isn’t only to remember the past.”


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