Jewish Maghrib Jukebox

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Haim Abitbol Digitized: Rare Recordings from the Koutobiaphone Era

Haim Abitbol. Abitbol. Koutoubiaphone. 1970s

Ok. I have been meaning to post this for some time. I first discussed Haim Abitbol (also sometimes listed as Botbol, it changes from album to album) over a year and half ago. I then posted some information about him here.

The short of it is is that Haim Abitbol was born in Fez in the 1930s to a musical family. By the 1950s he was collaborating with Salim Halali and others. I picked up this cassette in 2009 in Casablanca and was blown away. Really great chaabi music. Many of Abitbol's albums appeared on the now defunct Koutoubiaphone label. He continues to perform to this day. Abitbol represents part of the long tradition of North African Jews performing unparalleled North African popular music. I digitized this cassette last week and I am providing the first track Toumobile jaya below. I will add the others soon.

A personal account of the funeral of Edmond Amran El Maleh

About a month ago, Megan MacDonald, a Fulbrighter in Morocco focusing on the role that Francophone / Moroccan novels play in Morocco and who is completing her dissertation on comparative literature at the State University of New York at Buffalo, contacted me about the death of Edmond Amran El Maleh and details for his funeral. Megan ended up attending the funeral in Rabat and wrote a beautiful piece (below). She also took some great pictures. I think these pictures speak volumes to complicated relationships in Morocco.

Megan MacDonald
20 December, 2010

I first heard of the passing of Edmond Amran El Maleh at the age of 93, on Monday night via Twitter. Moroccan writer Laila Lalami reflected: “With the passing of Edmond Amran El Maleh, it feels as if a part of the literary, cultural (and yes, Jewish) history of Morocco has passed.” There was to be a tribute to this giant of Moroccan literature the next morning (Tuesday November 16, 2010) at the Jewish cemetery in Rabat, and then he would be brought to Essaouaira, his final resting place.

I wasn’t familiar with a Jewish cemetery in Rabat, so I turned to Google maps. I found two Jewish cemeteries in Rabat--one in between l’Océan and the Medina, and the other in Agdal. I emailed Chris Silver to ask him what he thought, having stumbled upon his blog while searching online for information on Jewish life in Morocco. My first instinct was that the older cemetery, the one near l’Océan and the medina, would be the spot for a tribute. In his email Chris reminded me “things in Morocco are never as they appear.” He also thought the medina would be the correct location. I asked IbnKafka on Twitter which he thought it would be. He was not aware of a Jewish cemetery in Agdal. I decided to ignore both of our first instincts, and head to Agdal. When I emailed Chris later on that day to tell him the cemetery was in Agdal he quipped, “Of course it was--I knew I should have trusted my opposite instinct.”

Exterior of Jewish cemetery in Agdal, Rabat (2010)

My taxi driver knew where the cemetery was, and asked me if I knew the word for cemetery in derija and fusha, which he promptly shared with me: (qbr) is a term in both derija and fusha that he said everyone would know, and (arodha) is specifically derija. He dropped me off at a semi-open gate, which turned out to be the cemetery for “the French”, according to the woman watching the door, with whom I exchanged some awkward derija, and which I later on found out is a Christian/European cemetery. She said that the Jewish cemetery was one door down.

Interior of Jewish cemetery in Agdal, Rabat (2010)

There were around one hundred people there milling about and talking in small groups when I arrived at 10am, with more trickling in over the next half hour. I heard a woman ask her companion in French, “Is the body here?” The crowd was made up of Moroccans and non-Moroccans, Muslims, Jews, Christians, those visually presenting as religious people, and those who were not, men and women, young and old, and several people wearing kaffiyehs with bright Palestinian flags on the borders.

Jewish, Muslim and Christian mourners of El Maleh (2010)

The body was brought out, draped in a Moroccan flag, and everyone gathered around as prayers were sung and tributes made. A cameraman showed up, filming the speakers and the body. In the cement enclosure the emotional words of the speakers were occasionally broken up by shuffling feet, sniffling, and ringing cellphones. One speaker highlighted the Moroccan Jewish community, which he said must continue to live on, as he cited El Maleh’s support of the Palestinian struggle, and his desire that Palestinians and Israelis should live in peace. El Maleh was described as a man rooted in his history, a history of Morocco. A man of conviction who had fought against the French occupation in Morocco. The speakers expressed gratitude for El Maleh’s compassion, his willingness to listen patiently to questions from others--even if they were not ‘good’ questions, or ‘intelligent’ questions. A man of grace who respected others. A man characterized by an incredible dynamism and honesty.

Scholars write about El Maleh as someone who constantly challenged idées reçus and official histories through his fiction and other writing. These remain a testament to the memory of his disappearance, while also serving as texts that bear witness to historical memory, and to a re-writing of official and unofficial Moroccan histories. This work of excavation was also one of re-layering: pointing at pluralisms that have existed in Moroccan society while looking towards a future with one finger on these historical sediments. His literature re-examined forgotten realities of Moroccan history, doing so in a polyphonic manner. Writing in Le Magazine littéraire in March 1999, El Maleh put forth:

« Écrivant en français, je savais que je n’écrivais pas en français. Il y avait cette singulière greffe d’une langue sur l’autre, ma langue maternelle l’arabe, ce feu intérieur. »

El Maleh was man who leaves us with his writing, a body of work that will be there for our children, and for their children. A man whose work speaks to all Moroccans, described by one speaker as Berber, Arab, Jewish, Muslim, francophone, arabophone. He was, according to one speaker, a man who knew how to laugh.

As is the case with premonitions that reveal themselves clearly in hindsight, it is fitting to end with the words of El Maleh’s friend Abdellah Baïda, writing just before his passing in Le Soir: “Ce cher Edmond a encore des cartouches dans sa besace; on entendra certainement reparler de lui.”

For El Maleh’s part, he felt: "Quand je quitte le Maroc, je me déplace sans me déplacer."


--Mary B. Vogl. “It was and it was not so: Edmond Amran El Maleh remembers Morocco” International Journal of Francophone Studies, 6 (2) 2003: 71-85.

--Edmond Amran el-Maleh, Le Magazine littéraire, mars 1999.



Abraham Serfaty Eulogized in JTA

JTA is starting a new blog called the Eulogizer. The first eulogy was dedicated to Abraham Serfaty and others. Hopefully we'll see something on El Maleh soon.

The Eulogizer: Holocaust survivor, Florida businessman, Moroccan dissident, Israeli firefighter

By Alan D. Abbey · December 20, 2010

JERUSALEM (JTA) -- The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories, and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at Read previous columns here.

...Lifelong Moroccan dissident, anti-Zionist

Abraham Serfaty, a lifelong Moroccan dissident whose opposition to repressive governments led to exile and imprisonment, died Nov. 17 at 84, 10 years after returning to his homeland in safety.

Serfaty was born in Casablanca to a middle-class Jewish family originally from Tangier. He joined the Communist Party in 1944, returned to Morocco in 1949 after receving an engineering degree in France, and participated in the fight against French colonialism.

In 1952 he was arrested and exiled to France under house arrest by the colonial authorities for his role as a nationalist activist. He returned home in 1956, when Morocco became independent, and worked in high-level government positions until he was removed from office for showing solidarity with a miners' strike. In the late 1960s and early 1970s he collaborated on an anti-establishment magazine, which led to his imprisonment, torture and then exile.

In 1991, following a campaign that included appeals from Danielle Mitterrand, wife of the French president, Serfaty was released from prison after 17 years, but his Moroccan citizenship was revoked and he again was exiled to France.

King Mohammed VI pardoned Serfaty and reinstated his citizenship, and Serfaty returned home to a villa and a modest income in 2000. He was later appointed adviser to the Moroccan National Office for Research and Oil.

A Dubai newspaper called Serfaty "a thorn in the side of the authorities in Morocco, both during the days of the French protectorate … and, later, under the repressive reign of King Hassan II."

"Serfaty was an activist who dedicated his life first to the anti-colonial struggle and then against the anti-democratic regime of King Hassan II," Moroccan Human Rights Association vice president Amine Abdelhamid said.

Serfaty was an anti-Zionist Jew who demanded abolition of Israel's Law of Return and supported the creation of a Palestinian state. In one of his books, "Prison Writings on Palestine," Serfaty wrote that Zionism is a racist ideology. His other books included "Anti-Zionist Struggle and Arab Revolution" and "The Insubordinate: Jew, Moroccan and Rebel."

Friday, November 19, 2010

Abraham Serfaty, Jewish Moroccan Democracy Activist and Communist, Dies at Age 84

Funeral at Casablanca Jewish cemetery of Abraham Serfaty

Abraham Serfaty, another influential Jewish Moroccan, died this week. Again very little English language press. Of course as this generation of Moroccan Jews moves on, we lose more and more information about how the Jewish communities of Morocco once were. I can't stress enough of how time is of the essence in capturing stories and memories.

From AFP:

Moroccan democracy activist Abraham Serfaty dies aged 84

RABAT — Leading Moroccan rights activist Abraham Serfaty died Thursday aged 84 after a lifelong campaign for democracy, first against the French colonial rulers and then King Hassan II's absolute monarchy.

Serfaty died in a clinic in the southern city of Marrakech, his wife Christine-Daure Serfaty said.

"Serfaty was an activist who dedicated his life first to the anti-colonial struggle and then against the anti-democratic regime of King Hassan II," Moroccan Human Rights Association vice president Amine Abdelhamid told AFP.

A long-time member of the communist party, Serfaty was first jailed by the Moroccan regime in 1972, when he accused the authorities of torturing him.

In 1977 he was sentenced to life in prison for plotting against state security but he was freed in 1991 after an international campaign.

He was immediately expelled to France where he became well known in political circles before he was allowed to return to Morocco in 2000.

Serfaty is due to be buried on Friday in the Jewish cemetery in Casablanca, next to the graves of his parents.

UPDATE: Amazing photos of the funeral here. More coverage coming in.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Jewish Moroccan writer Edmond Amran El Maleh dies - November 15, 2010

There has been plenty in French and Arabic written about the passing of Edmond Amran El Maleh, the Moroccan James Joyce, but here is some news in English from Agence Maghreb Arabe Presse:

Rabat - The great Moroccan writer and intellectual, Edmond Amran El Maleh, died on Monday in Rabat at the age of 93.

A tribute will be paid to Amran El Maleh on Tuesday at the Jewish cemetery in Rabat.

According to his wishes, his funeral will take place on the same day in Essaouira (western Morocco).

You can read more about El Maleh in one of my previous posts.

French language press can be found here.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Jewish themed films at 1st ever Moroccan Film Festival in NY - Oct. 29-30, 2010

A number of Jewish themed films will be included in the first Moroccan Film Festival, presented by the High Atlas Foundation, on October 29 and October 30. The entire program can be found here and I'm including Moroccan Jewish themed films below:

Scene from Where are you going, Moishe?

Saturday, October 30

The Dog’s Life of Juanita Narboni @ 2:30PM Dir. Farida Benlyazid
1:48, 2005, Comedy/Drama
U.S. Premiere

The recent history of Tangier, from the 1930’s through the 1960’s, is seen through the eyes of an Anglo-Spanish spinster. The film focuses on Juanita’s father and sister, a close Jewish friend, and her loyal Moroccan maid, but the real arc of the storyline is how their lives change as Tangier is transformed from an international zone to a truly Moroccan city. Almodóvar veteran Mariola Fuentes (Broken Embraces, Talk to Her) conveys a delicate balance of outrage, loneliness and poignancy. English Subtitles.

Where Are You Going, Moishe? @ 7:15PM
Dir. Hassan Ben Jalloun
1:33, 2007, Drama

A central Moroccan town is the setting, in 1963. Shlomo, a Jewish barber, struggles with himself and his family over emigrating to Israel. His decision will have a domino effect on his lifelong friends, who pull strings to influence him to stay. A heartfelt story that casts light on a little-known period in Moroccan history, as well as the bonds and conflicts between Muslim and Jew in the common hometown they’ve shared for centuries. English Subtitles.
Watch the film trailer

Marock @ 9:30PM
Dir. Laila Marrakchi
1:38, 2005, Drama
U.S. Premiere

A big success upon its Moroccan release, Marock focuses on three wealthy young women on the brink of finishing high school and deciding their futures. Rita falls in love with a Jewish classmate à la Romeo and Juliet, a relationship which is complicated by her brother’s burgeoning interest in Islamic fundamentalism. Part teen romance, part “Rebel Without a Cause”, part scathing social commentary, Marock is a stinging challenge to the contemporary mores of the haute bourgeoisie. English Subtitles.
Watch the film trailer

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ready for Restoration - Synagogues in Er Rachidia and Oujda - Part II

Bima/Hechal in Grand Synagogue, Oujda.

I have written much already about Oujda and you can read that here. As the Grand Synagogue, also known as the Moroccan Synagogue as there was also an Algerian Synagogue, turns 80 this year (built in 1930), I thought I would take this occasion to revisit it. The Grand Synagogue is in remarkable condition despite having no congregants. It was once well served by a population of thousands. According to H.Z. Hirschberg's Hebrew language "Inside Maghreb: the Jews in North Africa", Oujda's Jewish population stood at around 4,000 by the mid-1950s. You can read more about the modern Jewish history of Oujda here. Today there are three to six Jews left. The synagogue is a perfect candidate for restoration as I've explained in the past and should be considered as one of the more beautiful, large North African synagogues that has not been converted to other purposes (e.g., mosque). I am including photos from my 2009 visit below:

Stained glass ark.

View of hekhal, main seating area, women's gallery and ark.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ready for Restoration - Synagogues in Er Rachidia and Oujda - Part 1

Exterior of Sla el Kbira in Er Rachidia (Hebrew reads Union/Unity Synagogue)

Around the Jewish high holidays a number of articles come out talking about the most beautiful synagogues in the world. The authors/contributers can be forgiven if they don't take every synagogue into account especially those that have fallen into disuse or disrepair. Years ago, few would have mentioned the Eldridge Street Synagogue, built in 1887 and restored in 2007, amongst the most beautiful but today it has regained its title of "jewel of a shul."

This year two synagogues in Morocco turn 80 years old or near 80 years old, both built in the 1930s, that I believe deserve mention.

Er Rachidia
The first, called Sla el Kbira, was built in the 1930s (some say 1932). It still exists today although it's roof has collapsed from heavy rains. Located in the center of Er Rachidia, it's Hebrew inscription is still visible from the outside. I will write more about this synagogue and the surrounding synagogues and cemeteries soon but please find photos and a video from my 2008 visit below:

Interior of synagogue. Bima/hekhal with hand painted decalogue back right. Light pours through the open roof.

Hand painted decalogue.

Ark. Filled with hay.

More to come on Er Rachidia and Oujda later this week including videos.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

JDC in LA - 10/12: Archival Photos of Jewish Morocco

Young girl at JDC supported kindergarten wearing a bib made from a flour sack. In 1955, a JDC publication reported that through its dispensaries in Morocco, "Almost 23,000 children receive at least one warm meal during the day, and for very many of them, if not for most of them, it represents the only meal they receive during the day." JDC Archives, Fez, 1960

A performance at the JDC-supported Gan Yeladim nursery school. A 1949 JDC report says, "The focus of our work is on the youngsters-- the Jewish boys and girls of the slums and the mellahs, many of whom have hitherto been forced to beg on the streets for bread. Our key weapon on this front is the school. In JDC-supported schools the youngsters are kept off the streets and are taught to read and write, to play games and to study geography and arithmetic. JDC Archives, Tangier, 1954

Jewish boys at JDC operated Aliyah camp learning Hebrew. In addition to the nutritional and medical services provided to Moroccans seeking to immigrate to the newly-established State of Israel, JDC worked to ensure a smooth transition into Israeli life and culture. JDC Archives, Casablanca, c.1954

JDC Dimensions Presents:


An exclusive photography exhibit featuring newly-released JDC archival prints alongside modern Moroccan images from local, young, Jewish artists.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 at 7:00 pm

8275 Beverly Blvd. The former Zune LA space (corner of N. Sweetzer Ave.)


Free admission (must RSVP to

DJ - Wine - Moroccan Hors D'oeuvres

Event Chairs: Tiffany Aryeh and Niko Toubia

Host Committee: Mimi Jakobovits, Jessica Kimiabakhsh, Lauren Klein, Vanessa Shokrian

Limited space available.

Email or call 212-885-0811 to be added to the guest list.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Upcoming Exhibition: Jewish Life in Morocco - Oct. 14 at ASF in NY

Looking Back: The Jews of Morocco

This exhibition is part of the ASF's '2000 Years of Jewish Life in Morocco: An Epic Journey'

This exhibition will provide an overview demonstrating the presence and flourishing of Jews in the ancient and modern Kingdom of Morocco. The exhibition will be presented through the implementation of artistically designed textual displays, documents, pull quotes, non-photo images (e.g. lithographs and engravings), historic photos, captions, replications of historic documents, and other visuals which demonstrate the life of the Jews living throughout this North African country. This exhibition, developed and curated by Shelomo Alfassa, has been funded in part by the New York Council for the Humanities.

On the Opening Night of the exhibition, Dr. Norman A. Stillman, the 'Schusterman-Josey Professor and Chair of Judaic History' at the University of Oklahoma will present the keynote address. This will also open the ASF's year-long program, 2000 Years of Jewish Life in Morocco: An Epic Journey.'

The keynote speaker is Professor Norman Stillman, the Schusterman/Josey Chair in Judaic History at University of Oklahoma. Prof. Stillman has directed the Judaic Studies Program at the University of Oklahoma since the program began. He has written many books and articles, ranging from studies of the Jews of Sefrou, a small city in Morocco, to broader studies on North African history and languages. Such work has led to his involvement with INALCO (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales) in Paris. Over the last quarter century, he has focused his scholarship on Jewish-Arab encounters in Arab lands, and he is currently finishing a book on Jews in North Africa in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He has given lectures and conference papers all over the world and is the editor-in-chief of the recently published, five volume reference work, comprised of over 2,500 entries titled Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. He received the Distinguished Humanist Award for the year 2000 from Ohio State University. Professor Stillman received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.

Reservations requested: 212.294.8350 x.0 or $10 at the door/ $5 for ASF members.

Who: American Sephardi Federation (About the ASF)

What: Exhibition: Looking Back: The Jews of Morocco

When: Opening October 14, 2010 - Spring 2011

Where: At the American Sephardi Federation, a partner of the Center for Jewish History 15 West 16th St. NYC

Why: This exhibition is part of the ASF's '2000 Years of Jewish Life in Morocco: An Epic Journey'

Media: To request photos for publication or interviews, please call Shelomo Alfassa at 917-606-8262.

NEH Grant to Create Digital Archive of Jewish Moroccan Documents

September 9, 2010

From College of Lewis and Clark (link to article):

Oren Kosansky, assistant professor of anthropology, has earned a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop a digital archive of Judaic Moroccan documents from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. The online archive will open access to researchers with an interest in Jewish culture in Northern Africa and allow them to share ideas and information widely. Of even greater interest to the NEH, the project will offer a new model for intercultural and international collaboration in the creation of technological resources to share historical information.

Making a discovery

Kosansky’s fascination with Judiaism in Morocco dates back to his graduate work in the early 1990s. In 2005, a Fulbright research grant took him to Rabat, the capital of Morocco and former home to a large Jewish community. During his stay, Kosansky worked closely with leaders of Rabat’s major synagogue and community center. It was there that he discovered a genizah—a room or depository found in synagogues, where old religious documents that are no longer in use are kept and periodically buried.

“In Judaic tradition, documents containing references to God are forbidden from being destroyed,” Kosansky explained. “Most obviously books and papers on religious topics such as the Torah are deemed sacred and treated in a ceremonious fashion, but any item with religious or legal references—such as a wedding announcement or business contract—would also be kept.

“In this case, I found literally thousands of books and documents pertaining to virtually all facets of Jewish life in Morocco, especially as it was transformed during the 20th century. My first thought was, ‘How can I save these materials from burial, so that they can be consulted by community members and scholars.’”

Kosansky noted that the Jewish community in Rabat once numbered in the thousands and had dwindled to fewer than 100, following a broader trend of emigration that brought the majority of Moroccan Jews to Israel, France, and other global destinations. As an anthropologist, he saw great potential for research materials that could serve many in his field.

“Written materials are very important in Judaism,” Kosansky explained. “It is a very textual culture. These documents offer great insight into a culture and a community of people that once thrived here. They offer an opportunity to investigate elements of a society that has not been fully explored by those of us in the academic field. For the Jewish community, it represents something perhaps even more valuable—an opportunity to reflect on how their traditions have been shaped by modern life, colonialism, technological change, and global networks of migration, communication, and commerce.”

With the approval of community leaders, Kosansky sorted through hundreds of sacks containing thousands of documents and determined which documents were appropriate for burial and which represented significant historical texts suitable for preservation. Synagogue leaders gave Kosansky the documents for preservation, and he donated them to the Jewish Museum in Casablanca.

The unparalleled collection contains many unique documents, including handwritten letters, unpublished manuscripts, and community records, as well as published materials in a variety of languages, including Judeo-Arabic, Hebrew, and French. The documents now held by the museum will be the focus of Kosansky’s NEH digitization project.

Building a model to bring disparate parties and countries together

In developing his project, Kosansky has faced many difficult questions and considerations. Despite his excitement about the opportunity to open the door further on North African culture, he wrestled with concerns about how to build such an archive—chief among them, how to build an equitable process that respects the legal, ethical, and social differences across several societies.

“There are so many issues up for consideration,” Kosansky said. “For example, what, if any, are the copyright issues for such old documents? And what are the copyright laws in Morocco? Are there private documents we shouldn’t digitize out of respect for some individuals or the Jewish community? Who should be consulted on such ethical considerations?”

Kosansky will begin the project while he is directing Lewis & Clark’s first overseas program in Morocco next spring. Over the next 18 months, he will be identifying experts both in the U.S. and in Morocco in diverse fields like digital archives, information access, intellectual property law, and Jewish history to address the legal issues, begin the digitization process, and have the website built.

Given the scope of the entire project, Kosansky feels the key to its success will be building a shared vision and understanding across languages and cultural differences.

While the circumstances for any future project will be unique to the people and part of the world it is happening in, NEH will be better prepared to fund and assist comparable projects based on Kosansky’s experience and the lessons he takes away.

“This is about far more than an archive,” Kosansky said. “And it will be more than a list or set of images. It will be organic in its process and in its outcomes. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to learn how to effectively bring a cross-cultural project to fruition and to develop a model for academicians and laypeople to share information and ideas about the documents that they access.”

Monday, July 12, 2010

Samy Elmaghribi - New York

When I was last in Israel, I visited a number of record stores and made a number of contacts who had Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian and Libyan vinyl that they were willing to part with. I'm listening right now to some Samy Elmaghribi. The first title on this Koliphone/Zakiphon produced album is called New York. On New York, Samy sings about the boroughs and ends that line with talking about how the boroughs are well known (m3roofeen). He then lists the boroughs and ends with Brooklyn (Brookleen) to make a great rhyme and then sings about people in New York coming from many different religions (kul deen) to complete it. Great song. Great album. Very upbeat. If anyone has a full translation of New York, please let me know.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Azoulay Bros - Jaffa, Israel

Have been off the internet for a while and thus haven't posted. Will be back on the internet come this Thursday. In the meantime, I've posted some videos below. Pretty amazing.

I recently went to Israel with work. I took some personal time after the trip and went to Jaffa to the Azoulay Bros. shop to talk to them about Koliphone and of course to do some shopping. A few months ago I spoke about a fire that tore through their recording studio in the late 80s that destroyed most (if not all) of their master copies of some of the great North African Jewish musicians. They have no Koliphone or Zakiphon records for sale although they do hang some 7's around the store (see videos below).

They are working on recovering records but these records are now sold for too much money to really buy back in large quantities. They do sell some great CDs though for those interested (Cheikh Mwijo, Raymonde, Sami Elmaghribi, Line Monty, etc.).

I ended up buying some Zakiphon produced tapes (Cheikh Mwijo, Maxim Michali, Charli Elmahgribi, etc.). Really great finds.

In general, I got to know the used record scene in the Tel Aviv area. Email me if you need any recommendations.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Brill to Release Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World

Went to this event last night. The Encyclopedia is 5 volumes and has great editors (Norman Stillman and Daniel Schroeter among them). Here is a link to the Brill page for the Encyclopedia. It sounds like there are a lot of great Morocco related articles (synagogue architecture, music, small villages in the south). Schroeter mentioned an article on Ighil N'Oro which got at least a few folks in the audience excited. Brill is still working on finishing the index BUT the entire Encyclopedia will be available online at the New York Public Library through July 1, 2010.

Benchimol Hospital Update

Ynet reprinted the following and I think it gives a good overview. I wonder why there isn't the same concern for much older structures in Morocco that have either been converted to other uses or are falling into disrepair.

Jewish hospital in Tangiers torn down

Moroccan Jewish communities around the world outraged after ancient structure, which has been abandoned for 10 years, demolished before Passover, blame president of Tangiers Jewish community for current troubles, ask him to either take steps to prevent further actions or step down
Elad Benari

Moroccan Jewish communities around the world are upset after the Jewish hospital in Tangiers was torn down.

According to reports, the Benchimol Hospital in Tangiers which has been standing for more than 110 years was torn down Friday night before Passover at 2 am. “There is a law in Morocco that you cannot enter any private property between 10 pm and 6 am,” explained a concerned member of the Moroccan Jewish community in Toronto. “There was no warning about it.”

The community is now concerned that further action against Jewish institutions may be taken by the authorities in Morocco and wishes to make the public aware of the situation. Although the Tangiers Jewish community now only consists of about 40 Jews (at its peak there were 22,000 Jews in the community), there are still important Jewish landmarks in the area, such as a Jewish nursing home and two cemeteries.

“The new cemetery which is in the outskirts of Tangiers is on the highway going to Rabat. At one point it was really let gone. You could hardly go inside the cemetery because there were snakes; there were bushes in between the tombs,” said the concerned individual. “It was not maintained at all. Last year we sent e-mails and finally they got their act together and they cleaned it completely, and I do have to admit that they did a very good job. But it took years of pounding and pounding until they did it.”

The second Jewish cemetery in Tangiers is commonly known as the old cemetery, and was in operation already in the 1910s. There are many righteous individuals buried there, but it has not been maintained for the last 60-70 years. As a member of the local Moroccan Jewish community explained, the cemetery faces the port of Tangiers and the Moroccan authorities have their eyes on it. The community fears that if nothing is done, the authorities will take over that property and remove all the corpses.

Members of the Moroccan Jewish community, both in Canada and around the world, have begun to send e-mails to the president of the Tangiers Jewish community, whom they say is responsible for the current troubles, asking him to either take steps to prevent further actions or step down. “The Jewish community in Tangiers is run by Mr. Azancot. He’s the president,” explained one member of the Moroccan Jewish community in Toronto. “He was elected many years ago when the Jewish community was numerous. He’s hardly ever in Tangiers and doesn’t run things properly.”

'Main concern is Jewish cemetery'

According to the sources in the community, Azancot was given a year’s notice by the Moroccan authorities to fix up the hospital, which has been abandoned for about 10 years. The hospital has given care to Jews, Christians, and Muslims over the years. The members of the community explained that the problem arose when the president of the Jewish community went to the authorities with a plan to tear down the hospital and build an apartment building on that property. This opened up “a Pandora’s Box” as they put it, since the Moroccan authorities said that obviously, if the Jews want to build something on that property, that means they do not care about the building and it can be torn down.

They added that Azancot had no authority to decide to tear down the building since the Jewish community does not own the land. The land is owned by the Benchimol family and the deed has been deposited in the French Consulate. This means that only the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France has a say on the fate of that building.

Besides bringing attention to Jewish communities worldwide, letters have been sent to Azancot by many Moroccan Jewish around the world. So far, said the sources, the e-mails have gone unanswered. Representatives of the Jewish communities in Madrid, Montreal, and Toronto have already been in contact with Azancot. Now, contact is also being made with the Canadian ambassador of Morocco.

A letter written by one of the communities here in Canada to the Moroccan ambassador in Canada said that “Morocco represents the paragon of coexistence in the Arab world. At a time when we are targeting a Jewish-Muslim reconciliation, measures such as those taken in anger in Tangiers leave us puzzled.” The letter urges the ambassador to convey the Jews’ dismay to the Moroccan authorities.

“The hospital is done and there’s nothing we can do to reconstruct the building. Our main concern is the Jewish cemetery. They can go anytime and take over. There’s a lot of tzadikim in that cemetery and that is our major concern,” said the community members. “The representative of the Jewish community has been warned already: Either do something or step down. Mr. Bardugo, who is the secretary of the entire Jewish community in Morocco, has advised him the same but unfortunately the Jewish community in Tangier does not answer to the general communities of Morocco. It’s a separate entity and has always been that way so nobody can do anything against that.”

Reprinted with permission from Shalom Life

The Ynet article uses a photo totally unrelated to the article (of the Benarrosh Synagogue) which is of course part of a bigger problem of a lack of photo documentation of sites throughout Morocco.

Diarna has provided some good photo documentation of the site and a personal touch. Read about it here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Morocco's Oldest Jewish Hospital Demolished - Benchimol Hospital, Tangier

Article from Point of No Return:

Morocco lost one of its historic landmarks when the oldest hospital in the land, the Jewish Benchimol hospital in Tangiers, was rased overnight on 2 April. And the Jewish cemetery might be next.

Why did the demolition squads choose the dead of night and the middle of the festival of Passover to do the deed? And who ordered them in? The Moroccan newspaper Liberation, lamenting the destruction of Morocco's heritage, blames not just the local municipality for this act of historic vandalism, but the local Jewish community, which ostensibly 'sold' the pre-colonial, 110-year-old hospital in order to raise money for its poor - in spite of objections from the Fondation du Patrimoine Culturel Judeo-Marocain, whose aim is to safeguard Morocco's Jewish heritage. (Another report, however, says that the community did not own the site, which was the property of the Benchimol family, French nationals. Only the French consulate would have been able to give approval for the hospital to be torn down.)

Historian Ralph Toledano prefers to speculate that a rogue Wali is to blame, who acted without the knowledge and consent of the king. The deed was done while the few members of the tiny Jewish community were away.

"It is not just that this was a Jewish building which upsets me. All destruction of historic heritage is an irredeemable loss. A heritage cannot be reconstituted," Toledano writes. He admits that he had heard rumours that the local authorities had been wanting to demolish the building for some time. The (bizarre) aim was to turn the site into a public park, adjoining the ancient palace of Sultan Moulay Hafid. "One must never despise rumours, they often become fact."

Hence must be taken seriously a rumour that the municipality has next set its sights on the Jewish cemetery of dar el San’a, on rue du Portugal, opposite Bab America. The cemetery was an 18th century concession negotiated between the Sherifian king's representative and the Jewish community on the site of an old Portuguese fort.

The site measures more than a hectare, and commands a beautiful view over the straits. Mr Toledano is horrified at the thought that a site where venerable rabbis and community dignitaries are buried might be bulldozed. The 15th century Castille cemetery in Tetuan has a similarly breathtaking view.

Article in Liberation Magazine:

Interesting back and forth on the demolition and other demolitions/destruction/vandalism:,171291,171342
(Pay attention to situation of cemetery at Tinghrir)

More updates soon.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On Raphael Elmaleh - TelQuel Article

It's been way too long since I have posted and have lots of posts planned for 2010 but in the meantime please enjoy this article. If you are interested in having Raphy as your tour guide in Morocco, please let me know. Scroll to the bottom for the link to the article and an English translation.

ourisme culturel. Suivez le guide!

Raphi au musée du judaïsme marocain de Casablanca.

Organisateur de circuits touristiques et défenseur du patrimoine judéo-marocain, Raphaël Elmaleh accueille la communauté juive internationale qui vient au Maroc découvrir un pan de son histoire.

Hors des quartiers juifs de Casablanca, Raphaël Elmaleh, alias Raphi, passe inaperçu. Peu connu de ses compatriotes, ce quinquagénaire aux cheveux grisonnants, tirés en queue de cheval, est pourtant le seul guide touristique juif dans le monde arabe. Raphi, né à Casablanca au
début des années 1960, aime à se définir comme un Marocain juif et non un juif marocain. Des grandes cités impériales aux petits villages berbères, il fait visiter à ses clients les synagogues, cimetières et quartiers communautaires. Ces touristes particuliers l’écoutent expliquer (en anglais, français ou en hébreu) comment les juifs sont arrivés au Maroc, pourquoi la plupart en sont partis et comment ceux qui sont restés vivent en harmonie avec la majorité musulmane.

Retour aux sources
Raphi adapte ses circuits au souhait de ses visiteurs. Au menu : Casablanca et son musée du judaïsme marocain, Rabat, Meknès, Fès ou Marrakech et leurs mellahs plusieurs fois centenaires. Il propose également des pèlerinages sur les tombes de rabbins enterrés dans des petits villages judéo-berbères dans le sud du pays. Certains clients d’origine marocaine demandent à être emmenés sur les traces de leurs ancêtres. Ce qui rend les circuits de Raphi spéciaux, c’est qu’ils mêlent passé et présent, démontrant que les juifs constituent toujours une communauté active au Maroc. Au programme des visites, il n’y a pas que les synagogues et les cimetières, mais également les écoles, les clubs juifs et même les commerces dits casher. “Ce que je cherche à montrer, c’est que l’histoire juive n’est pas terminée au Maroc, explique-t-il. D’ailleurs la relève est là”. Raphi emmène ses clients visiter une classe d’hébreu à l’école Neve Shalom à Casablanca. Les touristes discutent avec le professeur, observent les étudiants et évaluent même les connaissances en grammaire d’une élève tremblotante. “C’est touchant de voir comment une petite communauté juive maintient ses traditions”, commente une touriste française, visiblement émue par la visite. Le groupe entier en reparlera d’ailleurs tout au long de la journée.
Quand il se met à raconter l’histoire judéo-marocaine, Raphaël Elmaleh a les yeux qui brillent. Un thème lui tient particulièrement à cœur : la cohabitation des deux communautés marocaines. “C’est la peur qui nous a chassés, et c’est la peur qui a créé la méfiance, bien que les juifs n’aient jamais été expulsés du Maroc”. Si un des touristes français retient de son voyage que “les juifs sont libres de vivre leur religion sans se cacher”, d’autres restent sceptiques. “Sans dire que cette bonne entente est artificielle, je doute qu’elle résiste demain, si la situation empire au Proche-Orient”, observe une autre touriste. Cette cohabitation, Raphi l’applique pourtant dans son entreprise même en prenant sous son aile Youssef Benjlil, un jeune du quartier Aïn Chock de Casablanca, en qui le guide voit son successeur. Leurs clients ne cachent pas leur étonnement que ce soit un musulman qui les renseigne sur l’histoire des juifs. “Je n’avais jamais rencontré un juif avant Raphi, admet de son côté Youssef, mais j’ai trouvé son travail fascinant”. Sa famille et ses amis soutiennent sa décision de poursuivre dans cette voie. “Je rêve de travailler aussi avec les étudiants marocains. Il est important qu’ils prennent connaissance de ce pan de l’histoire nationale”.

Travail de mémoire
Raphaël Elmaleh a justement été aux premiers rangs de l’histoire de cette communauté. Comme des millions de Marocains de confession juive, il a pris le chemin de l’exil en 1969, soit deux ans après la guerre des Six jours qui leur a laissé un véritable sentiment de malaise. Alors âgé de neuf ans, il est envoyé seul en Angleterre dans un internat religieux. Il rentrera au Maroc près de vingt ans plus tard, appelé au chevet de sa mère souffrante. Le jeune homme devient “travailleur social” au sein du Joint Distribution Committee, un organisme américain de soutien aux juifs en situation de précarité, facilitant notamment leur réinstallation en Israël.

C’est à partir de là qu’il commence à s’intéresser à ses origines, voyageant, pendant huit ans, aux quatre coins du pays pour recueillir les témoignages des derniers juifs du royaume. “Je me suis tout de suite rendu compte du profond respect qui existait entre les communautés juive et berbère”, affirme-t-il. Il s’installe dans le sud et supervise les chantiers de restauration d’au moins dix synagogues. Aujourd’hui encore, il œuvre à la rénovation de deux lieux de culte à Errachidia et à Ighil-n-Ogho (région du Siroua). “C’est à la communauté juive de conserver ses trésors culturels qui se détériorent”, explique Raphi. Il a trouvé, au cours de ses voyages, plusieurs antiquités judéo-marocaines ainsi que des livres anciens. “Je n’ai jamais pensé à les envoyer à l’étranger, puisqu'ils font partie du patrimoine marocain”. En 1997, lorsque le musée du judaïsme a ouvert ses portes à Casablanca, Raphi y dépose toute sa collection. “On travaille ensemble, raconte Zhor Rehihil, conservatrice du musée. Comme il se déplace souvent, c’est lui qui nous informe des nouvelles découvertes. Raphi fait beaucoup pour la communauté et la culture juives au Maroc”. Pourtant, certains universitaires lui reprochent de ne pas être un vrai historien. Mais l’intéressé n’a jamais prétendu le contraire. Sa reconnaissance, il la tire de la satisfaction de ses clients, à qui il offre son savoir et prêche la tolérance. La tête haute, l’enfant de Casablanca conclut à la fin de chaque circuit : “Je suis fier d’être juif dans un pays musulman”.

English translation of Tel Quel article