Jewish Maghrib Jukebox

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.


clarisse said...

I was taken back when I saw this. I was born in that town, my mother is the great grand daughter of Roif, she was born in Brazil, returned to morocco to Azilah as a child, and we her children, were all born there. I visited that cemetery any times as a child, and I also have a lot of history. I live in New York and Connecticut now.

Chris Silver said...

Clarisse - can't find an email for you but please feel free to email me at cbsilver at to discuss further. I also live in NY and would love to catch up.

clarisse said...

I was also looking for your email on your profile, thank you for sending it. I will contact you.

Medmouad said...

I have a question: do grandchildren of Moroccan Jews who emigrated to Brazil keep links with Morocco? Especially in language & traditions.

Unknown said...

My name is Shalom Benamu great grand son of Shalom Benamu who were born in Larache, His father is Elias Benamu. I´m tryng to find my roots back in time. Is there a jewish cemetery in Larache? any help?
my email is

Unknown said...

My name is Mel Chaplin. My wife's great aunt is a great great granddaughter of Levi Roif. We were in Salvador, Bahia Brazil last week to visit that branch of the family. Aunt Lea is in here eighties but is in good health. This gave me the opportunity to add a great deal of data to my genealogical research. We live in Brazil, near Rio. Thanks for keeping this blog. I have forwarded the pictures so the family can see them.

Naomi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NAHONY said...

Hi, I've just opened a community group in Facebook to gather all the history and information of the Jewish community in Asilah. You're welcome to join
"Jewish community and history of Asilah, Morocco"