Thursday, September 20, 2012

Jews in Morocco... Part One

I just returned from a week of travels in Rabat and Marrakech, helping the Peace Corps to plan and run some training sessions with the newest group of Volunteers. On Monday, I had the amazing opportunity to attend services in a Marrakech synagogue for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). It was a small group of people attending services, no more than 20, in a little building that you'd never know was a synagogue from the street. Through the experience, I felt like I joined a rich Jewish history in Morocco that, while dwindling today, began nearly 2,000 years ago and saw at its highest close to 350,000 Jewish people.

I've learned a bit about Jewish history in Morocco and thought some basics might be interesting to share. The history of the Jews in Morocco began during the spread of the Roman empire, in which an increasing number of Jews began to settle in what is now modern-day Morocco. Over the centuries, as rule over Morocco shifted between different groups (Romans to Arabs, Almohads to the Spanish, multiple ruling dynasties to the French, and finally, independence), the treatment of the Jewish population has ranged from very good to heavily strained. Following the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, the majority of Jews emigrated from Morocco to Israel, and today, Israel is home to nearly one million Jews of Moroccan descent, around 15% of the nation's total population. Today, approximately 7,000 Jews reside in Morocco, mostly in Casablanca, and some in other major cities (Fes, Marrakech, Meknes, Rabat). Many Moroccans with whom I have spoken are quick to point out that Morocco has a strong relationship with the Jewish people; in fact, the king's top advisor is Jewish.

Below are a few photos from the Monday service as well as some photos of Jewish sites that I have seen on my travels in Morocco. As I continue to learn more about Jewish history over my time here, I'll be sure to share it. Wishing all of my Jewish family and friends a sweet, healthy, and happy New Year filled with inspiration, forgiveness, and love!

Just before Rosh Hashanah services in Marrakech - the view from the women's section.
Mezuzzah at the synagogue in Marrakech.
A synagogue in the old medina in Fes.
Remains of a synagogue in El Jadida.
Overlooking a Jewish cemetery in Marrakech.

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