Jewish Maghrib Jukebox

Saturday, August 29, 2009

D. R. Cowles Photographs of Jewish Morocco in NYC

D.R. Cowles has photographed extensively in Morocco and his photographs will be on display at the 92nd Street Y starting on Friday, Sept. 4. For some of his photographs of Jewish Morocco click here and here. His Morocco photos were taken in 1993 and 1995. I have visited most of the Jewish sites that he photographed - some have been restored (like the synagogue in Arazan) and some have almost completely deteriorated (like the Mansano Synagogue in Fes).

This exhibit is a must see.

Information is below:


Using a hundred-year-old photographic process, D. R. Cowles has spent the last fifteen years turning it to contemporary purposes: documenting vanishing architecture and artisanal traditions, reinterpreting art antiquities and exploring the untapped potential of his nearly-obsolete medium to advance a modern aesthetic. In his choice of subject matter as in his means of rendering it, the past is given new life: human history, art history and the history of photography converge in images equally informed by the present.

This exhibition traces an artistic journey, representing several phases of Cowles’ work with key pieces.

Fri, Sep 4—Wed, Oct 21, 2009

Viewing hours are 12–4pm on the following days unless otherwise stated:

9/9 (12:15 start)

10/7 (12:15 start)

About D. R. COWLES
Born in Boston, David Cowles studied at New York University's Graduate Institute for Film and Television and later at Concordia University where he majored in European and Jewish history. In 1993, fusing historical with photographic interests, he made the first of numerous trips to North Africa to document remaining Jewish sites in Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia. In the course of this project, Cowles also photographed Islamic and traditional Moroccan architecture, Roman ruins, and art antiquities. Since 2002, he has moved from artistic documentary to making photographs as pure art, refining his late 19th century printing process and applying it to semi-abstract still life studies and multiple-print composite images.

Cowles has lived in Montreal since 1976. His work is represented in numerous private and public collections including the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, the Tel Aviv Museum and the Jewish Museum of Casablanca.
All prints are courtesy of the artist. D. R. Cowles is represented by Yosefa Drescher Fine Art,

For more information regarding this exhibit, please call 212.415.5740.

General Viewing and Contact Information for the Weill Art Gallery

The Milton J. Weill Art Gallery is open to patrons of Kaufmann Concert Hall during regularly scheduled events. For viewing at other times please call 212.415.5563 to schedule an appointment.

Milton J. Weill Art Gallery, 92nd Street Y

1395 Lexington Avenue , New York City

92YTribeca Gallery

Click here to visit the 92YTribeca Gallery at the 92YTribeca site.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Jewish Cemetery in Asilah: Connecting with Levy Roif’s Great-Great Grandson

Nearly a year ago I wrote about the Jewish cemetery in Asilah. I mentioned two tombs that caught my attention. One of them was of Levy Roif who died in 1926 at the age of 110.

Last week I received a note in my inbox from Rinaldo in Brazil. It was a surprise that only the internet could have enabled.

Rinaldo wrote:
It was quite a wonderful surprise to read about the location of the tomb of Levi Roif. He was my great-great-grandfather. His son Abraham Roffe, or Roif, emigrated with his family in the late XIXs [19th century] to the city of Belem, in northern Brazil where he died in 1931 and was one of the leaders of the local Jewish Sephardic Community. My grandmother, Miriam Roffe Athias commented about her grandfather Levi Roif whom she knew personally, lived almost 110 years old, and was buried in Asilah.

He continues:
In the late XIX’s [19th century] and early XX’s [20th century] there was a massive migration of Moroccan Jews to the Amazon region during the rubber boom, they came from the cities of Tangier, Tetouan, Larache, Rabat and Asilah. The three sons of Levy Roif moved in the wake of that migration and settled in the city of Belém where there is a Synagogue since 1848. Around 300 Jewish Sephardic families still live there. The eldest son, Abraham Roffe, my great-grandfather came with wife and younger children. His eldest daughter, Miriam Roffe my grandmother, stayed in Azilah for a few years more, living with her grandparents Levy Roif an Honoria (The same name of my mother); she died in Belém in 1956.

Even more astounding - Rinaldo was kind enough to send me possibly the only photo in existence of Levy Roif (date unknown) taken in Asilah, Morocco. He also included a photo of the extended family taken in Brazil in 1922.

I am including both photos below. I am also including never before seen photos from my September 2008 visit to the Jewish cemetery in Asilah.

Levy Roif (date unknown)
Asilah, Morocco

Abraham Roffe, Wife and Family (1922)
Belem, Brazil

Tomb of Levy Roif (2008)
Asilah, Morocco
(c) Chris Silver

Jewish Cemetery and Geniza (2008)
Asilah, Morocco
(c) Chris Silver

A Guide to Accessing the Jewish Cemetery in Asilah
Take a train or bus to reach Asilah. The cemetery in Asilah lies just down the coast from the city center. It is easily accessed by foot and most locals will be able to point you in the right direction. There is a cemetery gate that remains unlocked. There is a family that lives on premises. The fourth wall that should close the cemetery off from the sea has come down which makes for a breathtaking, unbelievable view/juxtaposition but of course should be repaired to prevent further deterioration of the cemetery. To repair the wall would cost approximately $500. If anyone is interested in financing the repair, please contact me. A geniza still exists in the cemetery unlike other abandoned cemeteries across Morocco.

Asilah As Inspiration – the Case of Edmond Amran Elmaleh Edmond Amran Elmaleh is known as the Moroccan James Joyce. He was born in Safi and began his writing career much later in his life. His 1979-80 visit to the Jewish cemetery in Asilah inspired his first book Parcours Immobile.

He writes:
When, around the years 1978-1980, the emotion, the shock felt in a visit to the Jewish cemetery in Asilah, a small town forty miles from Tangier, determined the birth of Parcours Immobile, my first book.

Here is a little more about Parcours Immobile which takes place in the Jewish cemetery in Asilah.

Here he artfully describes Nahon, the last Jew to die in Asilah.

There is much more to write about the cemetery in Asilah (including its foundation story which involves a shipwrecked refugee ship from Spain in 1492), Jewish Asilah, and Elmaleh but I will leave it here for now.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cheikha Zohra El Fassia

Haaretz ran an excellent piece the other day that highlighted some of what I discussed with the Jo Amar entry - namely that Moroccan musicians continued to record (in Arabic) upon arrival in Israel.

Here are a couple interesting notes from the article:
  • Israeli musicians "discovering" Moroccan music
  • Some of the Moroccan music produced in Israel has been lost forever (due to a fire in the 1980s that destroyed the master copies of this music)
The article also discusses the the later years of her life. Here is some more background on Zohra El Fassia (also known as Cheikha Zohra El Fassia due to her mastery of a number of popular genres and traditional styles including gharnati, aita and melhoun).

A link to her "Ya Warda" can be found here. For a video of her performing, click here.

On a personal note, I have been working to collect the old LPs of Zohra El Fassia and other Moroccan Jewish artists including Sami El Maghribi, Cheikh Mwijo and others. As the above article discusses, this music is quickly being lost and we need to preserve it.

Here are a couple of excellent compilation CDs that feature (prominently) North African Jews:
Pay close attention to - Raoul Journo, Louisa Tounsia and Cheikh Zouzou.