NEW YORK (AP) – With its mountains and desert, beach resorts and Berber villages, Morocco is a feast for travelers of most types, including those who want to explore the kingdom’s deep Jewish origins. The existence of Jews in Morocco stretches more than 2 back,000 years. Today, after vast waves of departures over time, no more than 2,000 Jews stay in Casablanca and about 500 elsewhere in Morocco, but the Jewish existence is alive in a variety of sights still.
The Museum of Moroccan Judaism in suburban Casablanca, for instance, is the only museum on Judaism in the Arab world. Jews of Moroccan descent, in Israel and around the globe, go back to the North African kingdom often plus some maintain second homes in familial areas. Jewish heritage tours to Morocco are abundant and easy to track down. Most cities have a cellar, which can be an old Jewish quarter, along with Jewish synagogues and cemeteries. Mittelman, who has spent 40 years absorbing the past history, culture, and religious practices of Jews in Morocco, leads groups of students on tours of Jewish sights as part of an advanced seminar.
He said there’s plenty to read ahead of a visit. He recommends Shlomo Deshen’s “The Mellah Society: Jewish Community Life in Sherifian Morocco” for more on pre-colonial Morocco, based on the writings of 18th- and 19th-century Judeo-Moroccan sages. Mittelman has honed his travel itineraries overtime. The last Moroccan Jewish day school, Neve Shalom, is within Casablanca, which is the financial and business center of the kingdom.
Watch the children playing outside in the lawn, enjoy them singing Jewish songs and learn more about the school’s Hebrew classes and Bible studies, Mittelman said. Go to the Tahiti Beach Club, once a local Jewish hangout. Among Mittelman’s walking tours of Jewish residential areas in Casablanca are stopping at the Beth El and Eim Habanim synagogues. Casablanca has a normal kosher bakery and kosher restaurants, as do other metropolitan areas.
The city is a good spot to start for a grounding in Jewish traditions and history. Just over 100 Jews remain in Marrakech, including a few who live in the old Jewish one-fourth, Mittelman said, but the mullah is bustling. Among the synagogues that staying is the tiny blue-and-white Lazama, along a narrow street. Ask an area where to find it.
Visitors may get into for a small fee. There’s an appealing read-style courtyard with a fruit tree and a little chair for weary travelers. The original synagogue dated to 1492, but it was rebuilt later. The mullah isn’t the only place for synagogues. Head to the city’s newer portion of Gueliz, with a heavy European impact, for shabbat services at Temple Beth El Synagogue.
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Any taxi drivers should know ways to get there. For a day trip away of Marrakech visit the Jewish history sites at Essaouira, once a flourishing Jewish middle and a previous Portuguese fishing town. It had been also an end for ’70s and 1960s rock superstars who made pilgrimages to Marrakech. The town, dating to the 1700s, has a synagogue, cemetery, and mellow, with plaques indicating buildings where ancient, long-gone synagogues once stood.
The city experienced a sizable Jewish community in the 17th century and has a well-known Orthodox synagogue, Ibn Danan. Once crumbling, it was refurbished in the 1990s with help from the World Monuments Fund and American Express. King Mohammed VI has focused on reviving Jewish sites around Morocco. The mullah this is a maze within walls. You WILL get lost and that’s half the fun. And a Jewish cemetery, in which a handful of eminent medieval rabbis are buried, there’s a site in Fes that is considered sacred among women, the Tomb of Solika.
With a final name that varies, Solika – as you retelling will go – was a Jewish woman of great beauty who was simply beheaded in 1834 for refusing to convert to Islam. Maimonides, one of the most influential and prolific Torah scholars in the Middle Age range, lived in Fes from 1159 to 1165. His rock home, with weathered engraving marking the location, is worth a stop. Walk a few steps, and you’re bound to find somebody willing to help you in Fes and somewhere else, but one who knows “Jewish Morocco” is harder to come across, Mittelman said. Do some research beforehand to get the right motorists and guides if you’re journeying individually just.
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