Morocco has long been an exciting and interested destination for world travelers. Its strategic location amidst impressive dynasties has allowed Morocco stand above the best of its Mediterannean neighbors. Morocco, a North African country situated in the Maghreb Desert, has a population of 33 million, and a long historical connection to Judaism. Despite the country’s long historical association with the religion, the population of Jewish residents has dwindled to just .02 percent of the total. When Morocco obtained its independence, there were about 280,000 Jewish citizens throughout the country, making it the largest community of Jewish residents within the Muslim world. Estimates of the current Jewish population in Morocco vary.
Sights in Fez, Casablanca and Marrakech
While less than one percent of the population of residents in Morocco are Jewish, the religion has made its mark especially in cities like Fez and Casablanca. The majority of the country’s Jewish residents live in Casablanca, but it’s communities like Fez where visitors can see many remnants of the once-large Jewish community. With a little research, you can find a travel company offering tours of Casablanca and Fez, two communities that have small (by some estimates) but thriving Jewish communities.
The first segregated Jewish community in Fez was created in 1438, and even today, visitors can see the mellah and businesses operated by Jewish community members – like goldsmiths, shoemakers, ironmongers. UNESCO is reportedly funding restoration of Jewish synagogues within the mellah. Within the mellah lies a Jewish cemetery,
In Casablanca, you’ll want to visit Temple Beth-El, a synagogue sometimes called the center of the area’s Jewish community. You can also explore the Museum of Moroccan Judaism, where collections of artifacts include books of prayer, ornaments of the Torah, traditional lamps and even tombstones.
Traveling to Marrakech, you’ll find that the Lazama Synagogue may be the only Jewish synagogue in the mellah in Marrakech that is open to the public on a regular basis. The modern Miaara Jewish Cemetery dates back two to three centuries and lies atop a historical cemetery.
A Bit of History
Before 70 CE, when the Second Temple was destroyed during the Siege of Jerusalem, the population of native Jewish individuals was stable in Morocco, but during the Siege, the residents of these former Jewish communities spread across the country and Sephardic Jews left Spain to settle in Morocco, bringing with them their traditions that took over the indigenous form of the religion and its customs.
Throughout the years, there have been multiple efforts to suppress the population of Jewish Morocco and efforts as well, to rebuild it in Morocco. For example, in 1672, when Moulay Ishmael came to power, he protected the Jewish community from violence, although in 1679, he forced the Jewish people to construct the Meknes Mellah, according to Project Aladin.
Groups Dedicated to Restoring, Protecting Jewish Heritage
The Foundation for Moroccan Jewish Heritage is dedicated to protecting monuments and synagogues in Morocco, supporting the efforts of communities that have taken on the task, in communities like Tangier and Arazan. The Casablanca-based organization will focus on preservation of books, manuscripts, synagogues and cemeteries.
For travelers who are interested in exploring Morocco’s Jewish culture and sites affiliated with the Jewish community, Gil Travel can help to design the perfect trip – offering visits to sites that are both educational and memorable to explore an up close and personal Jewish History of Morocco.