By Jess L. Norton
By Jess L. Norton
Fez, August 6, 2011
Morocco World News
Moroccan Judaism: A Culture in Danger is the title of a documentary film which I recently watched at the American Language Center here in Fez, Morocco. Before I came to Morocco six months ago, I didn’t even know that Moroccan Judaism was a culture and apparently most Moroccans don’t either. Even after I came to Morocco I didn’t see any synagogues or other evidence of Judaism until it was pointed out to me. It is definitely a hidden culture if not a culture in danger. The film begins by asking several people in the street if they know about Jews in Morocco and most of them seem somewhat confused if not entirely lost. Youness Abeddour filmed and produced this documentary for just that reason. He apparently saw that most people are uninformed and he wished to change it. Educating an entire country about something which they have forgotten is of course no small task, but Mr. Abeddour was obviously equal to the challenge.
In this film, the interviewees are well chosen and they include such notables as Simon Levy who is the director of the Jewish Museum in Casablanca and an internationally renowned scholar in the field of Moroccan Judaism. Mr. Levy is not the only person of note included as the documentary also includes interviews with Vanessa Paloma, who is a scholar of the music of Northern Moroccan and Spanish Jews. Ms. Paloma not only studies the music and culture of these Moroccan Jews but she also revives their music in her many musical performances. These two that I’ve mentioned are only a small part of the group of academics and researchers which were selected to appear in the film.
The interviewees discuss a wide variety of topics. They begin by discussing a few key terms and it is made clear early in the film that neither Zionism nor Judaism as a religion is the focus of the discussion. The film is meant to educate Moroccans about the Moroccan-Jewish culture and to discuss how this part of the Moroccan culture is an integral part of the whole. In effect, the argument made is that if they have forgotten the Moroccan-Jewish culture then they have forgotten a part of their own culture as well.
Once the terms are defined and the point of the film is made clear, the viewer is then quickly met with a fountain of information. The interviews first focus on the history of Jews in Morocco. They discuss many things such as the first Jewish immigrants to Morocco, the creation of the Mellah and even the meaning of the word “Mellah”. As Mr. Levy states in the film, the word “Mellah” seems so strange to some people that they often “make up nonsense to explain it.” Mr. Levy’s explanation is of course not nonsense, but the product of many years of study. What he has to say is very informative.
From there a section is devoted to Jews as Moroccan citizens. In this section, the interviewees are asked about life in Morocco and about life among Muslims in Morocco. It is very interesting to hear Dr. Armand Guigui discuss his relations with his Muslim patients. Others discuss life among their Muslim neighbors and the very interesting question of national identity. What is the difference between a Moroccan-Jew and a Jewish-Moroccan? I think that this documentary is very enlightening on this point. At the end of this chapter, the interviewees are asked about Mimouna and how it brings Muslims and Jews together.
Everyone is living together in peace it seems. That is, until the exodus. I’m not talking about the ancient exodus from Egypt. No, the Jews left Morocco. Why did they leave? The same question is asked by many of their Muslim neighbors who awoke in the morning to find them gone. The mass migration of Moroccan Jews to Israel has caused a great deal of confusion and even anger in Morocco. The film does not avoid this difficult issue, but faces it directly and among those interviewed is a Moroccan Jew who lives and works as a professor in Israel.
The conclusion of the documentary is that Moroccan-Judaism is indeed an endangered culture and some of the means of preserving this culture are hi-lighted. The Jewish museum is among them and it is obviously very important, as it is the only Jewish museum in the entire Arab world. Additionally a new project is discussed which has been launched to preserve and archive historic Moroccan-Jewish texts for academic research.
Is Moroccan-Judaism an important part of Moroccan culture? Is it in danger? Watch this film, educate yourself and then decide.
This documentary will be available soon on Morocco World News.
Photo credit: The View From Fez