By Sahar Amarir
Morocco World News
Paris, June 29, 2013
The history of Moroccan Jews in Morocco could have been thought of as disappearing when the Jewish community drastically shrunk during the second half of the 20th century.
However, recent events of the past year are showing a strong will to remember a common Muslim-Jewish history in Morocco.
Morocco, officially a Muslim country, has had a significant Jewish community for at least 2500 years according to historians. Up until the beginning of the 20th century, Moroccan Jews were as much as 250,000. However, that number declined in huge proportions with the establishment of the state of Israel, the colonization of Morocco and successive Israeli-Arab wars.
Moroccan Jews have thus massively emigrated mainly to France, Israel and Canada. Some left out of religious Zionist convictions or after being called by Jewish agencies to the holy land; others left for financial reasons to France or Canada and finally some feared instability and insecurity for the Jews in Morocco after the decolonization and the tension that grew with the Israeli-Arab wars; while in more rare cases others received individual threats, making them leave Morocco for these countries.
Today, only between 5000 and 7000 Jews remain in Morocco, mainly in big cities like Casablanca, Marrakesh and Fez.
This has created de facto a gap between the elder generation and the Moroccan youth when it comes to Moroccan Jewish history as the former lived with Jews while the latter never did.
This gap is even more dramatic as the youth represent a significant part of the population in Morocco. However that gap might be filled thanks to what could be seen as a Jewish revival in modern historical and cultural conscience.
The monarchy, the state and the civil society seem to have made steps towards renewing historical curiosity and preserving the Jewish heritage.
Indeed, the Moroccan government and the King Mohamed VI have invested in massive restoration plans aimed at preserving centuries old synagogues in Morocco. A few examples are the launching of the restoration of a synagogue in the old city of Casablanca and another one in the imperial capital of Fez.
The most recent example is the completed renovation of rabbi Raphael Ankaoua’s mausoleum in Salé after two years of intense work following the initiative by the ministry of culture, which represents just one small step as more than 160 Jewish cemeteries are also programmed for renovation under its authority.
Moroccan national television have been broadcasting in past years Jewish celebrations such as the Mimouna – a special celebration at the end of Pessah only celebrated by Moroccan Jews- as well as the Hilula and other celebrations linked to the commemoration of great rabbis and Jewish saints in Morocco.
Last year also saw the airing of a documentary by French-Moroccan Kamal Hachkar called “Tinghir-Jerusalem: the echoes of the mellah” which deals with the coexistence between Jews and Muslims in Morocco, especially in his amazigh village Tinghir, and the feeling of exile felt by the Jews once they established themselves in Israel, as well as their nostalgia of Morocco.
The documentary follows elders of the village of Tinghir as they remember their lives with their Jewish fellows and their participation in the life of the village. Italso follows those Moroccan Jews now living in Israel and shows their strong cultural attachment to Morocco.
Beyond the fact that the documentary represents an emotional human and historical journey, as well as a refreshing perspective of history, it was a never seen before remembrance of Moroccan history that tackled the ignorance of the past in which some may have fell into.
Associations also participated in educating citizens about their Jewish counterparts. After an open-air debate organized by the association “Marocains pluriels” about the 3 monotheistic religions and their coexistence in Morocco – to which took part representatives of the 3 faiths-, the junior branch of the association named “Marocains pluriels junior” went for a shabbat dinner with a rabbi to learn more about Jewish religious tradition but also about Jewish culinary tradition in Morocco as they had a special taste of “dafina”, a special Moroccan Jewish dish.
The growing curiosity and eagerness to learn more about the Jewish community in Morocco faces a sad reality which is that a once thriving minority in Morocco, now represents just a few thousands Jews who are unlikely to be as numerous as they used to be.
However, against all odds, the future can be unpredictable when it comes to this matter with Jews having been slowly resettling here in these past years – though in still very small numbers- attracted by the economic boom in Morocco, especially tourism and its affiliated economic fields.
In addition to this small trend, the Jewish Moroccan diaspora has preserved its unique traditions throughout the years though the youth among it faces the same challenge that the local Moroccan youth face: that of not forgetting history.
It is a crucial for any generation to know its past in order to be able to build its future. Ignoring a part of history is also ignoring a part of our identity. Beyond that, in a world where polarized radical trends try to oppose different populations, whether westerners, easterners, Europeans, Africans, Muslims or Jews in different geopolitical conflicts, teaching people about the reality of coexistence and the links that bond these different populations builds bridges of understanding and help avoid the spread of the idea that these people and their mindsets are antithetical.
There is absolutely no better way to spread ideas of coexistence than simply stating a historical truth that it has indeed existed, and continues to do so.
Every part of the Moroccan society should help push forward this trend of remembering the past so as to celebrate the values of multiculturalism in the Moroccan melting pot and promote peaceful values. Constant progress is needed to avoid stagnation or worse, the backwardness of ignorance.
By choosing to proudly display the Jewish part of its make-up, Moroccan civil society is slowly but surely going to indentify a basis for recognition of the benefits and added value of a thoughtful debate on national history and the contribution of minorities to the country’s heritage.
Those are the main reasons why this semblance of Jewish revival has to be supported, worked on and developed as much as possible to build a positive future where Moroccan society acknowledges every single detail of its past history in order to be able to build its future.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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