Moroccan Jewish Community Life – Page 3

Community Life After Independence

In 1956, when Morocco gained its independence, the Jewish population was about 170,000. Mass emigration to Israel through the early 1970’s and subsequent continuous emigration to Israel, France, Canada, the United States and South America have reduced the Jewish population to about 2,500 in 2020.

Dr. Leon Benzaquen, pictured with King Mohammed V, was a Jewish community leader who served as Minister of Communications from 1956-1958.  From centerblog.net

Throughout this time, Jews have been Moroccan citizens and have had few political or legal restrictions other than those affecting their emigration to Israel from 1956-1961 and phone and mail with Israelis from 1962-1999. They have enthusiastically supported Moroccan kings and their initiatives, such as the 1975 Green March asserting control over the Western Sahara and the construction of the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. However, they have played a minimal role in political parties and parliament. Nevertheless, in 1980, they reported that they were not discriminated against and had a meaningful role to play in independent Morocco.

The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, completed in 1993. The Jewish community contributed to the construction fund.

The freedom urban Jews felt since Moroccan independence encouraged almost all of them  to move from the mellahs to the new European cities, where they lived among Moroccan Muslims. Business and social interaction with Muslims became more common, although most Jews maintained their closest relations with other Jews.

The Moroccan Government took responsibility for funding the francophone Alliance Israelite Universelle school network under the name Ittihad-Morocco, which opened its doors to both Jews and Muslims. Wealthier Jewish families sent their children to French high schools (lycées). The Moroccan Government established or built up universities that taught courses in Arabic, making it difficult for francophone Jewish students to attend. As a result, Jewish parents sent many of their high school graduates to European universities. Some of these parents emigrated to Europe after their children finished their university studies.

Moroccan Government investments in education increased literacy and raised educational levels among urban Moroccan Muslims, helping them to match the educational levels of Jews. The Government attempted to employ as many university graduates as possible. Competition for these jobs as well as Jewish emigration reduced the number of Jews in government administration. At the same time, the percentage of Jews, both male and female, employed in the private sector increased.

Maimonides Community Center in Fez

Each city with a significant Jewish population built or strengthened its own religious, educational and social institutions, as well as mikvas (Jewish ritual baths for women), kosher butchers and restaurants. These cities were also served by national Jewish institutions, such as the Council of Jewish Communities; the Institute of High Rabbinic Studies; the High Rabbinic Court; the Ozar Hatorah-Neve Shalom sephardic religious/secular schools; the Chabad/Lubavitch network of schools, religious training centers, libraries and camps; and the Jewish Scouts.

                    Rambam Jewish Scout Troop of Rabat (1958). From Elie Cohen, Montreal, in Dafina.net 

As the Jewish populations of most cities has dropped to less than a hundred, Casablanca has strengthened its role as the center of Jewish life. It is the seat of the Council of Jewish Communities, which created the Foundation for Moroccan Jewish Heritage and the Jewish Museum of Casablanca. Its population of about 2,000 supports over a dozen public and family-owned synagogues; Jewish community centers; Kosher butchers, bakers and restaurants; and Jewish schools, youth centers and charities.

Celebrating Hanukkah at the Cercle de l’Union Community Center and Restaurant in Casablanca.  From Cercle de l’Union Facebook Page

One of the challenges of the Council of Jewish Communities is taking care of Jewish community-owned property, including synagogues and cemeteries, throughout the country. It also assists in the efforts of Jewish emigrants to resolve problems with private property they left in Morocco.