Sunday, May 05, 2013

Renovated Jewish Museum in Casablanca re-opens

 It's the only Jewish museum in the Arab world. But the renovated Jewish museum in Casablanca, where barely a thousand Jews still live, is increasingly a memorial to a vanishing past. (With thanks: Michelle, Lily): 

(JTA) -- The Museum of Moroccan Judaism, one of the only institutions of its kind in the Arab world, was reopened in Casablanca following months of renovations.

The reopening ceremony earlier this month was attended by Moroccan government officials, museum President Jaques Toledano and Samuel Kaplan, the U.S. ambassador to Morocco and a past president of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, according to the Moroccan news site

At the reopening, the museum's halls were filled with the sound of violins and the scents of incense and orange blossom. The museum, with a floor space of a few hundred square yards, features photos of synagogues from across the kingdom, Torah scrolls and Chanukah lamps, Moroccan caftans embroidered with gold, jewels, ancient rugs and objects of Jewish-Moroccan cultural heritage.
“It’s not a fancy museum, but it contains some real treasures of cultures,” said Joel Rubinfeld, co-chair of the European Jewish Parliament, who saw the museum last month during a visit for talks with Moroccan officials.

Founded 15 years earlier by the Jewish community of Casablanca, the museum was later managed by the Foundation of Moroccan Judaism under its chief administrator, Simon Levy. The building was renovated following his death in 2011.

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 Yael Miller found her stay with a Jewish family in Marrakesh an eye-opener (Haaretz):

 Indeed, while I came to study Islam and Arabic, I learned much about Jews in Morocco and my connection to a broader Jewish community. I was extraordinarily lucky to gain this new, Jewish perspective. Shabbat dinners, for example, to which I had been accustomed to experiencing with Ashkenazi tunes and flavors, became a veritable slew of Moroccan traditions, from the hardboiled egg in the cholent to new tunes for Shabbat songs. Spending time with this family taught me different ways of celebrating holidays and Jewish events in a way that enriched and enhanced my appreciation for the Jewish Diaspora.

 My hosts, who stand to date as the most gracious people I have ever met, truly brought me into their family: from sitting in their living room eating dates and walnuts while I heard of the struggles and successes of living in Morocco as a Jew, to the beautiful Shavuot celebration I spent in the mountains of Morocco, I became so much more appreciative of my own Judaism and of how our people, who were so spread throughout the world, were really one community.

 Not everyone is as lucky as I was to experience first hand a different Jewish tradition than one’s own. For that reason, I am truly happy that the Museum of Moroccan Judaism is open once again. It stands as an important testament to the vivacity and tenacity of the Jews of Morocco, and also helps to spread understanding about the community’s influence on Moroccan and Jewish history.

 A good friend of mine who traveled through northern Iraq showed me pictures of an extraordinarily old synagogue he saw during his trip. In his photos were talitot strewn on the ground, walls crumbing, and the entire grounds of the building in terrible disrepair. It was horrible to see a synagogue that once brimmed with life so dilapidated.

 So many historically significant Jewish sites remain underfunded, without any intention to preserve them. By supporting projects like the Moroccan Jewish museum’s renovation, we keep historical sites and memories of Jewish life alive and safe. Just as importantly, or perhaps even more so, Jewish centers, museums, and cultural sites like the one in Casablanca can promote understanding and tolerance by presenting apolitical information on Jewish life to all who visit. Thus, new generations of Moroccans can learn and understand that Jews are not only those who live in Israel today, but were once the neighbors of their parents and grandparents. 

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Morocco's Jewish Museum founder Simon Levy dies

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