The Jewish community has always been and continues to be of great value in both historical and contemporary Morocco. The presence of Jews in Morocco stretches back more than 2,000 years, and estimates put their number as high as approximately 275,000, with significant concentrations in Casablanca, to be considered the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world.
Back in history, Jewish Moroccans have inhabited the area of North Africa since ancient times, predating Roman rule, and developing traditions and rituals distinct from the religious communities farther north and east. It is actually remarked that first significant Jewish settlement in Morocco was built around 580 B.C., existing as its own nation through the early years of Roman rule.
Today, we welcome you to Casablanca, the city that boasts a Jewish community of more than 2,000, and where our Moroccan Jewish heritage tour takes place. Today we will learn about more than 3,000 years of Moroccan Judaism in our one-day tour.
Casablanca is the business capital and the beating heart of economy in Morocco. Casablanca is the Spanish term for “White House” and generally abbreviated by locals as “Casa”. It is believed that early settlement in the area dates back to pre-Roman times in Morocco in what back then was known as Anfa. Most travelers associate Casablanca with the film, Casablanca, and of course, the reality of this fast-paced Moroccan city is quite different. It was not until French colonialists arrived in 1906 that Modern Casablanca really began to grow and prosper, taking over the economic leadership from Rabat and Tangier. Presently, nearly five million inhabitants of different races and ethnic groups call Casablanca “home.” Within the 5 million, the Jewish population is made up of roughly 2,000 who live in Casablanca. Casablanca, in comparison with other important cities as Fes and Marrakech, has the largest Jewish population. The city also boasts the only Jewish museum in the Muslim world and a Jewish neighborhood that is full of kosher restaurants, synagogues and Jewish schools. More interestingly, Casablanca’s Jewish community contributed financially to the construction of the city’s Hassan II Mosque (the second largest in the world), illustrating its integration with Muslim neighbors.
First, we start today’s agenda by visiting the Jewish quarter, commonly known as the “mellah.” The mellah will open up the horizon for us to have an overview of the Jewish community in Casablanca as well as to explore other Moroccan Jewish heritage sites. Casablanca’s mellah is relatively recent according to Moroccan standards (about a century old), and it contains within it Casablanca’s Jewish cemetery. Mellahs, synagogues and Jewish cemeteries are found in most of the largest and important cities all over Morocco. However, it should be noted with this point that most of the Jewish communities in Morocco now live in the modern or “European” areas but still keep properties in the mellah. The tomb of the Jewish saint Eliahou in Casablanca’s cemetery is well-known in the city, at which the Jewish community of Casablanca gather to celebrate a hiloula, or prayer festival, once a year.
Next, we will visit temple Beth-El, the main synagogue in the city. While Casablanca boasts more than 30 synagogues, Beth-El is the largest and is considered the main Jewish site in Casablanca, with a rich history to which is added the culture of modern-day Moroccan Jews. The most attractive part in the synagogue in regards to architecture is undoubtedly its beautiful, well- adorned stained glass. Sunlight pours in, tinted multicolor from this stained glass, and shimmers off an enormous central crystal chandelier, creating a rainbow-like effect across the entire synagogue.
Later, visit the Museum of Moroccan Judaism in Casablanca which is the only one of its type in Africa and the Muslim world. The museum, founded in 1997 with the support of the Foundation of Jewish-Moroccan Cultural Heritage, is believed to be a lively image of more than 2,000 years of Jewish religion, tradition and culture in Morocco. This museum of history and ethnography has been recently renovated to include feature artifacts, including Torah scrolls, Chanukah lamps, photographs, carpets and kaftans. For that reason, the museum is considered to be a Moroccan Jewish treasure.
By this time, we will have already explored a fair amount of Moroccan Jewish heritage in Casablanca. Another site of no lesser significance for the Jewish community in Casablanca is Hassan II Mosque, for whose construction Moroccan Jews gave generous offerings. The mosque is one of the very few mosques in Morocco where non-Muslims are allowed to enter. It is the largest mosque in Morocco. It also has the highest minaret in the world and has a capacity of more than 25,000 worshippers. Interestingly enough, the building cost nearly 1 billion U.S. dollars, raised entirely by public offerings, from all layers of Moroccans, including contributions from the Jewish and Christians communities, which makes it stand out as a symbol of harmony among the three main Abrahamic religions.
Conclude your one-day-tour by a visit to Casablanca’s Habous market and local Casablanca cooperatives. Shop and explore local crafts and wood work traditions, leather and carpets.
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