Menorahs and matzo greeted guests as they entered the Moroccan Jewish Museum in Casablanca, the only museum solely devoted to Judaism in the Arab world, to celebrate the end of Passover.
Casablanca – A Jewish Moroccan opera singer weaved in between songs in three different languages as dozens of guests walked past ancient menorahs and freshly baked matzo.
For more than two decades, the Moroccan Jewish Museum in Casablanca has been hosting a post-Passover mimouna celebration. This year’s event fell on Sunday, April 28.
“The mimouna celebration brings together the Moroccan Jewish community, but is also a bridge between Moroccan Muslims and Moroccan Jews,” Zhor Rehihil, the museum’s current and founding curator, told Morocco World News. “It’s a reminder that before everything else we are Moroccans.”
A mimouna is a traditionally North African Jewish celebratory dinner typically held the day after Passover. It celebrates Jews’ ability to begin eating food forbidden during Passover.
In Judaism, Passover is the celebration of the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in ancient Egypt. This year, the week-long event took place April 19-27.
The mimouna celebration featured Jewish Moroccan baritone singer David Serero, who serenaded the crowd with songs in Arabic, English, and Hebrew.
“I loved singing during the Mimouna because it is such an important traditional celebration that celebrates Moroccan Jewish culture,” Serero told MWN. “I loved being a part of that.”
Approximately 100 people from cities all over Morocco listened to Serero’s version of Frank Sinatra’s classic “Fly Me to the Moon,” as they milled around the museum sampling snacks and examining exhibits.
Origins of the museum
While the museum now features “Please Do Not Touch” signs, that was not always the case. Following the end of World War II, the building was used as a Jewish orphanage for nearly a decade.
Established and run by Celia Bengio, the orphanage, which at its max housed up to 160 Jewish youth, was known as “Murdoch Bengio’s Home of Children” until its closing in 1954.
After the doors of the orphanage were shut, the building fell into ruin.
That was until Serge Berdugo, Jacques Toledano, Boris Toledano, and Simon Levy bought the the dilapidated compound and restored it with the intention of turning it into an museum.
The museum officially opened in 1997 and is currently the only museum solely devoted to Judaism in the Arab world.
“Jewish heritage, just like Berber, Arab, European, Christian and Muslim heritage, is all a part of Moroccan identity,” Rehihil said. “The responsibility of our generation is to understand this identity, protect it and explain it to the youth of Morocco.”
Latest on Moroccan Jews
King Mohammed VI announced the launching of a second Jewish cultural museum in the northern city of Fez last month.
The King said he wanted the museum built as part of his “Medina of Fez 2018-2028” development project. The building’s budget is MAD 10 million (approximately $1 million), and the museum will be in the Jdid district.
Just a few days before the announcement of the museum, the Moroccan Jewish community appointed its first chief rabbi in nearly a century, Yoshiyahu Pinto, the great-grandson of renowned Moroccan Rabbi Chaim Pinto.
The World Jewish Congress (WJC), an international federation of Jewish communities and organizations, estimates that are approximately 2,300 Jews still living in Morocco.
The kingdom’s Jewish population significantly decreased following the end of World War II. The WJC estimates there were 270,000 Jews in Morocco in 1948. Thousands immigrated to France, the United States, Canada, and especially to Israel—following the state’s establishment.
The remaining Jewish communities are spread across cities such as Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech, Meknes, Tangier, and Fez.