The 2,000 year old Berber Jewish presence in the High Atlas mountains of Morocco has come to an end with the passing of Hananiyah Alfassi. Alfassi was also guardian of the shrine of Rabbi Shlomo Ben Lhens.
"I recently received news of the death of Hananiyah Alfassi, the last Jew to live in Morocco’s Ourika Valley and the caretaker of its shrine to Rabbi Shlomo Ben Lhens, a Judeo-Moroccan “Saint.” You may recognize Hananiyah as the hobbled but proud guardian of this rural Jewish pilgrimage site in several Diarna tour videos. His death marks the end of an era.
"Thousands of Jews once lived throughout the Ourika Valley and surrounding countryside. After all of them left, Hannaniyah remained — maintaining a constant, solitary vigil at the shrine of Rabbi Shlomo. Hannaniyah welcomed visitors from around the world and upheld the shrine’s rituals until the day he died: blessing pilgrims, lighting candles, and holding court with legends of the mysterious rabbi, whose name means “son of the snake.”
"On several occasions, Diarna team members were beneficiaries of Hannaniyah’s hospitality, once even spending the night in the shrine’s small guest quarters. When we interviewed him several years ago, Hannaniyah worriedly wondered who would preserve the shrine after he passed on. “Insh’allah,” he said, “May it be God’s will that someone will come to protect the tomb.”
"Hannaniyah feared what his absence would mean for the perpetuation of Rabbi Shlomo’s memory. His passing is a reminder of the urgency of Diarna’s mission. If Diarna had not met with Hannaniyah and paid witness to his unique guardianship, the chronicle of his life’s work could have faded along with the stories of multitudes of Jews who once inhabited the Valley."