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Morocco: On “Jewish Morocco”

Morocco has a long relationship with Judaism; during the spread of the Roman empire, a number of Jews settled in what is modern-day Morocco. Over time, relations between Morocco's majority Muslim population and its small Jewish population have ranged from very good to heavily strained. Following the creation of the state of Israel, the vast majority of Morocco's Jews emigrated (approximately 15% of Israeli Jews are in fact of Moroccan descent), however, approximately 7,000 Jews reside in Morocco today. Moroccans are often quick to point out that the king's top adviser, André Azoulay, is Jewish.

There is very little about Moroccan Jews on the Internet, as Moroccan blogger Ibn Kafka recently pointed out. In a post on “Jewish Morocco,” he said:

Celui qui cherche des infos sur le net sur le judaïsme marocain devient vite frustré: entre la débauche de liens et la qualité disparate de l’information, la frustration est souvent au rendez-vous. Jusqu’ici, l’excellent site de Rick Gold – Visiting Jewish Morocco – constitue un point de départ incontournable, et on pourrait y rajouter le forum communautaire Dafina, désordonné, foisonnant mais inégal. On pourrait rajouter à cette liste deux musées – celui du judaïsme marocain de Casablanca, et celui du Centre de la culture judéo-marocaine à Bruxelles. Sans compter les sites excentriques – comme celui consacré à la restauration de la synagogue Attias d’Essaouira.

Anyone looking for info on Moroccan Judaism on the Net will be frustrated: between the amount of links and disparate quality of information, there is often frustration. So far, Rick Gold's excellent site – Visit Jewish Morocco – is an essential starting point, and the disorderly and abundant, but uneven community forum Dafina could be added. One could also add to this list two museums – one of Moroccan Judaism in Casablanca, and the Center for Jewish-Moroccan culture in Brussels. Not to mention the eccentric sites – such as one dedicated to the restoration of the Attias Essaouira synagogue.

The blogger then introduces us to the latest blog on the scene, Jewish Morocco, written by American Chris Silver. Silver, who is exploring Jewish sites across the country, has written about towns which have perhaps never been mentioned in the blogoma (Moroccan blogosphere). In one recent post, he writes about meeting Moroccan Jews in Oujda:

Spent last night with my wonderful hosts and had another delicious meal. The oldest of the women sat down next to me before dinner and wanted to hear all about world Jewry. She wanted to know how many Jews were still in Syria, Lebanon, everywhere. She asked me about the Jews of Ethiopia and I was shocked that she even knew to ask. She asked about Iran and I told her that there were many more Jews there than in Morocco. They were all shocked and started asking if they covered their faces like all Iranian women. It was very comical.

I learned more about these women throughout our meal. One had been to Israel before but for some reason has decided to stay here in Morocco. I told them that my mother had thanked them for being so warm to me and that got them really excited. We ended our meal and they asked me to take about 4 pounds of truffles back with me to some mutual friends in Casa. I of course obliged and have now added truffles stuffed in matzah boxes to my previously light load.

Bet El Synagogue, Casablanca, Morocco

Bet El Synagogue, Casablanca, Morocco

Silver has also noticed the dearth of Jewish Moroccan sites online. In one post, he writes:

Google Earth and Wikimapia have become two very interesting resources for discovering Jewish Morocco. Both applications allow users to identify points on an often very clear map. So for example, an aerial view of Rabat will identify the mellah and a synagogue (“cinaguogue juif” south of the mellah and in a cluster of 3 marked areas) amongst many other sites. The information is user generated and usually by individuals on the ground.

It is quite clear that both bloggers are doing their part to bring this lesser-known population to the Internet. Ibn Kafka, however, shares one regret:

…qu’il n’y ait pas de voix de l’intérieur non-institutionnelle – par exemple un blog d’un Marocain juif vivant au Maroc, éclairant de l’intérieur la culture, l’histoire, la spiritualité et le présent de cette partie essentielle du peuple marocain et de son histoire.

…there is no inside, non-institutional voice – such as a blog of a Moroccan Jew living in Morocco, illuminating the domestic culture, history, spirituality and the presence of this essential part of the Moroccan people and its history.

Photo Credit: dlisbona

15 comments

  • Interesting, Jillian. Thanks.

    ~ Maya
    (GVO, Israel)

  • Ethan

    \emigrated\ is an interesting choice of word.

    Some of the morrocan jews that were persecuted, stripped of their rights, property and citizenship and forced to leave the place they called home, are still living in Israel.

    Perhpas you would like to ask them, if by going through that traumatic ordeal, they would like the choice of word \emigrated\.

    • Would you like to back that up with some facts, Ethan? I don’t doubt that there are Moroccan Jews who suffered, but can you explain the thousands that have stayed and prospered with your rhetoric?

      Do a little research.

      • Jillian,

        The intensity and commitment of your response to Ethan is disproportionate here. While I can’t quote official “research” (or “rhetoric,” as you jump to calling it), there is absolutely no question that Moroccan Jews living in Israel made aliyah because of deep feelings of persecution and mistreatment at the hands of their neighbors.

        My source, since I know you will ask for it, is word of mouth and a general common knowledge and acceptance of history and experience of the Moroccan community in Israel.

        Highly unlikely that 15% of the population would “emigrate” out of a simple desire to live somewhere else, don’t you think? Israel is hardly an economic land of opportunity that would call for such labor emigration, or however else international migration might otherwise be justified.

        ~ Maya
        (GVO, Israel)

        • Maya,

          I may have responded too quickly, and I do understand that there are complex and diverse reasons (many of them economic, others not) that Moroccan Jews emigrated.

          But the fact is, they did emigrate, even if it was out of feelings of persecution. They were not forced out, as in many other Arab countries, and I think that’s an important distinction to make. I did not mean to lessen their experience.

          Jillian

        • I might also add that there’s plenty of research that backs up the fact that American, Israeli, French and other Western forces are owed significant blame as to why Jewish Moroccans became disillusioned with living in Morocco. Just as the Belgians meddled in Rwanda, much of the rift over 30 years between Moroccan Jews and Muslims can be blamed on outside forces.

          I suggest looking at Rick Gold’s research.

          • Rick Gold, will do.

            As to not being able to answer another post, I’m going with systems glitch. On WordPress the administrator chooses how many replies one comment can get. Maybe that’s it.

            ~ Maya

             
        • The Moroccan community in Israel is not of course the entire story of Judaism relative to Morocco, and of course Israel has had a long established narrative with respect to its ‘Eastern’ origin populations.

          Israel, even in the 1950s, was relative to impoverished Morocco certainly a step up. It says rather much about the complex motives of emmigration that a significant number of Moroccan Jews went to France, etc., rather than Israel.

          Economic motivations, and opportunity, have long been, if may say, Non Trivial motivators for emigration from Morocco.

          Privledging one narrative, the Israeli one with its own biases, is hardly any better than the “All was Great” Moroccan narrative re Jews.

          • “Privledging one narrative, the Israeli one with its own biases, is hardly any better than the “All was Great” Moroccan narrative re Jews.”

            Agreed, Lounsbury. I did not intend to state that all was rosy, of course; but to suggest that “emigrated” was the wrong word is preposterous. For whatever reason Moroccan Jews left, they did not do so by force (as compared to some other Arab countries).

             
  • There are dozens of articles about the Jews of Morocco on this blog.

  • The blog mentioned in the previous comment is Point of No return. The address is
    http://www.jewishrefugees.blogspot.com

  • I thank Jill for having raised the issue of Moroccan Jewry; Jews who of course are –and I’m proud to say- an integral part of Morocco’s history and heritage.

    I’ve made an interesting encounter with a Moroccan Jew last year and we had an interesting conversation. I posted about it at the time but it didn’t get much attention. I thought it would be interesting to evoke it back. Here’s the story (sorry for the lazy exercise of copy-pasting a previous work, but I think it’s relevant to the conversation we’re having here):

    There she stood in the darkest corner of the room, looking dazed, probably altered by some earlier sipped doses of heavy alcohol but still looking terribly handsome. The room was saturated by a thick fog of cigarette smoke, some rock music was beaming out of the loudspeakers connected to a laptop reading some “illegally” downloaded mp3 files and everybody was speaking and laughing out-loud. Although I’m not an alcohol drinker, I rarely object to sharing my friend’s (almost all of them drinkers) party times. Indeed I enjoy it most of the time. The scene I’m describing happened last Saturday in my colleague’s place when he invited us all over to celebrate his… mm… how shall I say?… “career promotion.” I know… it sounds pompous, but it was more of a pretext for partying. Anyway; at one point that night, I was approached by this young lady:

    “Hi! my name is Cécile. I know you’re a Moroccan. My parents were Moroccans too”

    At which point I woke up from the state of lethargy I was slipping into. The whole evening I was listening to stupid argumentation about football, politics and some boozed-up stories of absolute nonsense, so I was pleased to engage into what seemed to be a promising conversation with a becoming interlocutor of the sort any sober being would be pleased to chat with.

    “Yes indeed I am a Moroccan. Have you ever been in Morocco yourself?”

    Her eyes were looking tired but she managed to gather strength and looked as if she was struggling to focus on every word she was going to pronounce. As if her life depended on it:

    “No, I’ve never been in Morocco and my parents left the country when they were teenagers; they fled the country with the French in the late 50’s and they never wanted to go back. The country will never be as it was in the past, my father always explains.”

    I thought: “F-L-E-D the country? what the hell is she talking about?”

    “Are you sure you’re talking about Morocco? I don’t understand. If your parents were Moroccans, why would they have to leave with the French, why didn’t they stay and enjoy independence?”

    “My parents are Jews and they were afraid of the aftermath” she answered. “They feared the reaction of Muslims after the French protectors were gone. Now; don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Muslims but you can see how Jews are treated there nowadays… I think my parents took the right decision.”

    I always worry when anyone starts saying: “I do like Muslims, BUT…”; “I’m not a racist, BUT…” It’s often a disclaimer for an issuing covered up racist diatribe. At that point, I felt that my blood was starting to boil and that I had to hold my fire and try to dig this intriguing matter up as dispassionately as I could.

    “With respect, I really don’t see what you’re talking about. In my whole life I’ve never heard of or witnessed a Moroccan being attacked or discriminated against because he was a Jew. Yes you can find some scarce instances of mean racist behavior of the kind you’d find in every western society, but nothing really malign. In fact Jewish people -with all due respect to your parents- have fled the country not because they were threatened but because they were encouraged to do so, or deliberately pushed into a state of irrational fear of the Arabs (I mean Muslims) by the so many pernicious activities of Israel’s Zionist agencies.”

    She turned red, but I didn’t quite work out whether she was hurt, upset or just going to go berserk.

    “I’m a secular Jew, I don’t quite care about religious matters. In fact I’m agnostic. I’m suspicious of everything religious. You can’t deny mounting antisemitic feelings amongst Muslims… and you cannot just put the blame on Israel… the only democracy in the region and a secular state.”

    There we go. My goodness! I glanced to my watch thinking: “I don’t wanna get bogged down into this… Is this really worth loosing my time?” I was really annoyed by what I’ve just heard ’cause I really started to like the irresistibly attractive lady standing in front of me, looking offended.

    “I’m not denying mounting antisemitic feelings not only amongst Muslims,” I replied ” but in every corner of the planet and I’m deeply saddened and concerned by that. It’s very difficult to deny the obvious and I have no reason to denying that… But I think you’ve missed my point. Antisemitism is a despicable phenomenon; a symptom of a much profound disease. If you think like a Doctor you would surely want to treat the symptoms but you know that as long as the deep and pernicious source is left undiagnosed, you’re running the risk of relapse. And you don’t have to work it out that hard. The diagnosis has got a name: it’s Zionism. Now, sure Zionism cannot be blamed for all the filthy antisemitic nut cases out there but it’s surely a fundamental motive for many ignorant extremists and racists who find in Israel’s actions and those of her supporters, the ideal pretext for further stigmatizing and defaming Jews for no reason other than they are Jews. But I think that you should stop deluding yourself with regard to Israel: First it is not a democracy… Did you get that? IT IS NOT A DEMOCRACY. No democracy in the world would divide its citizens into two or three classes: Ashkenazi being first-class citizens, Sephardi and Falasha being arguably the second, and last & indeed least, the unwanted pesky Arabs put in some sort of non-citizenship status. As for Israel being a secular state: I agree that the founding figures of Zionism, from Herzl onward, have been for the most part secular; in fact most of them were atheists, but you have to admit that Judaism was used by those same figures to gain political and moral support for their scheme. If you mistrust anything religious as you claim, I don’t see how you can miss the ludicrously obvious religious undertone of the Israeli state which claims to represent all Jews on this planet?”

    Now she’s seriously blushing. May be I should work out a way out of this. I don’t want to be ripped apart by this young lady. Cowardice? Yea! maybe. Who wouldn’t lack courage in front of such a delicate creature? She finally replied:

    “I don’t like Israel, nor do I like Arabs… I mean Arab countries… I mean States. I know where you’re coming from but I don’t like politics anyway. I don’t like politics…”

    Well I didn’t ask her to dislike Israel or even to love Arabs… All I was asking for, is a bit more of fairness. Now I can’t help defining as racist anyone proclaiming his or her dislike or even liking of one group of human beings or another because this is the typical kind of irrational mindset that brought terrible tragedies in the very near past. I mean Arabs, Jews, Blacks or Asians are not clones or a bunch of perfectly homogeneous individuals; therefore there is no reasonable basis for liking or disliking each group as a whole. There is no black and white (no pun intended) kind of answer for that.

    We decided to cut short the conversation, changing the subject and trying to enjoy the rest of the evening, not without a little pinch of disappointment in my heart. “Never trust appearances” my grandmother always told me… yes! but I still wonder if I should have asked for her number… to expand on the conversation of course not for what some twisted minds would think… of course!

    So juste take it easy people. Jews have always lived in peace with muslims, and although there have undeniably been instances of discrimination, never have they been collectively targeted or willingly pushed to live Morocco; their Morocco.

  • je prépare un film documentaire sur la présnec ejuive à Tinghir, ville berbère. C’est ma ville natale.
    je recherche producteurs, mécènes , bref des financments pour continuer ce joli projet. J’ai déjà commencé à filmer au Maroc et je dois me rendre en Israel
    kamal hachkar

  • BS”D Wow, I realize this is an old post, but I am now feeling better that I have found so little on Moroccan Jewry. We are researching for the family kollel here in Israel, and find very little really good information. Todah Rabah!

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