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Jewish Life in Casablanca

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From the biggest Jewish community in the Arab world Marocca lost most of his Jewish population to Israel after its foundation, after the year 1951 roughly 25,000 Jews migrated from Morocco to Israel. The Operation Yachin, which took place from 1961 to 1964 brought over 100,000 Jews and sometimes entire villages from Morocco to Israel and started to migrate them into the new country. These migration events in the last century caused that the Jewish population shrunk enormously. Today there are around one million Moroccan Jews worldwide but just 3,000 Jews living in Morocco, the minority lives in Casablanca where there is still a Jewish community well established. This community is still very strong culturally and lives in the European quarter next to the mellah. They run over 30 synagogues and have kosher restaurants such as Jewish cultural events and social services.

The over thirty synagogues build the heart of the Jewish community in Casablanca. The main synagogue is Temple Beth-El. It is one of the largest in Morocco and still in use. The synagogue is famous for its stained glass windows, in the style of Marc Chagall. “The ark, the most important thing in the synagogue, houses the Hebrew scrolls and these are dressed in exquisitely embroidered velvet mantles.” The majority of the Jewish community visits the synagogue at least once a month, whereas the other synagogues in the community are not in use full time. Another synagogue which is very important for the community is the Ettedgui Synagogue. Under current king of Morocco King Mohammed IV the synagogue got renovated with a governmental fund. In the last couple years the Jewish community started to have a renaissance in Morocco. There is a rebirth of Jewish life in the city of Casablanca and the Ettedgui Synagogue is one of the biggest successes of this renaissance. The reopening of the synagogue was so important that even King Mohammed IV attended this event.

One other important cultural building for the Casablanca Jews is the El Mellah Museum. It was opened in 1997 and is the only museum in the Arab world which devotes to Judaism. Originally the building which is used for the museum was built in 19448 as a Jewish orphanage. The museum has a big collection from Moroccan Jewish heritage, for examples visitors get to see old photographs and wedding dresses from the previous centuries. Yearly the museum has around 17,000 visitors which is not a lot but tendency rising. In addition the museum is one of the main institutions which is doing research about Jewish life in Morocco. The current museum curator Zhor Rehihil said “Some universities have cre­ated research departments about Morocco’s heritage. Every year, we receive over 20 students in the mu­seum who carry out research about Moroccan Jewish identity and herit­age”

The Jewish community runs a lot of restaurants, schools, service and cultural centers where the people can eat, spend their time together, dance, sing or do other activities. One of their biggest yearly events is called hiloula. “Once a year, the Jews of Casablanca celebrate a hiloula, a prayer festival, at the tomb of the Jewish saint, Eliahou.” Besides this festival there are other events happening and the different cultural centers give out information about them or often even host them. Altogether the small Jewish community is growing population wise and culturally. Another aspect which should not be forgotten is that the Arab Muslim Jewish relationship is working really well and gets a lot of support from the Arabic side what is very different compared to many other Arab countries or cities.

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