Film Portrayals of Jews in Morocco

Films by Moroccan Muslims

Most film portrayals of Jews in Morocco have been undertaken by Moroccan Muslim producers and directors. Some of these films have explored why Jews left a country which they called home for over 2,000 years and where they lived in security. Others examined the relations between Jews and Arabs and Amazigh peoples in Moroccan society. Most of these films are available for purchase, downloading or streaming with English subtitles. Here are French-language versions of them.

Goodbye Mothers (2008)

Goodbye Mothers is directed by Mohamed Ismaïl. Taking place in Casablanca, the movie examines the intertwined lives of Moroccan Muslim and Jewish families during the mass emigration of Jews in the early 1960s. The story is inspired by the tragic sinking of the Israeli boat Egoz, in which 44 Moroccan Jews emigrating to Israel clandestinely lost their lives. The film explores the political and social environment that led Jewish families to emigrate. It traces the lives of Henri, a Jew, and Brahim, a Muslim, who jointly run a business, as well as their wives Ruth and Fatima, who work together in another business. The film also examines the anger of a Jewish parent about her daughter dating a Muslim and a Jewish woman who is reluctantly following her son and grandchildren to Israel. It looks at both Jews selling their assets prior to emigration and Muslims buying them. Finally, it examines the emigration recruitment tactics used by an Israeli representative to create a feeling among Jews that Morocco was no longer safe for them.

Where are You Going, Moshé? (2007)

Where Are You Going Moshé? is a Moroccan-Canadian film directed by Hassan Benjelloun. Taking place in Boujad, the movie depicts the turmoil created in a small town that has lost almost all of its Jews to the mass emigration to Israel. It focuses particularly on the last Jew in town, Shlomo, and the owner of the only bar in the town, Mustapha. Mustapha is warned by the authorities that he must close the bar because consumption of alcohol is prohibited to Muslims. However, as long as the town has non-Muslim inhabitants who are allowed to drink alcohol, the authorities will allow Mustapha to keep the bar open. When Jews begin emigrating in large numbers from Boujad to Israel, Mustapha is terrified that he will soon have no more Jewish customers and will be forced to close the bar. By any means necessary, he tries to keep the only remaining Jew in Boujad, Shlomo Bensoussan, from emigrating to Israel.

Marock (2005)

Marock is directed by Laïla Marrakchi. In 2006, it was the most popular film shown in Morocco. The film was very controversial as it deals with a romantic relationship between a young Muslim, Rita, and a Jew, Youri, living in Casablanca. It was shown in Moroccan cinemas without being edited or censored. The title Marock derives from the French name for Morocco, Maroc, and rock as in rock ‘n’ roll. It was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.

Tinghir-Jerusalem (2014)

In TINGHIR-JERUSALEM, filmmaker and historian Kamal Hachkar searches for a community that has vanished – and confronts fundamental questions of his own identity. An Amazigh Muslim born in Tinghir and raised in France, Hachkar says “the only thing that I was sure of is that I came from elsewhere.” While he returned to Tinghir frequently, it took him years to discover that the town once had a thriving Jewish community. Hachkar sets off in search of that history. He travels to Israel, seeking out those who emigrated from Tinghir and their descendants—some of whom identify as Israeli, while others still firmly see themselves as Moroccan. What he discovers in conversations over old family photos and while listening to the stories of the Jews who left Tinghir—and the Muslims who remain—is a history of close co-operation between communities. They shared a common identity as the Amazigh, and lived in a town where “the muezzin’s call would mingle with that of the morning Jewish prayer.” In encounter after encounter, his interlocutors speak wistfully of the past – Muslims expressing sadness over the departure of their neighbors, and Jews wondering if their departure was worthwhile. Hachkar finds that the Jews who left Tinghir did so willingly. Most saw themselves as fulfilling the Biblical teachings to return to the Holy Land. But he discovers that many question the value of uprooting themselves from Tinghir to live in a land with cool and sometimes hostile relationships between Jews and non-Jews.

Moroccan Jews: Destinies Undone (2013)

Moroccan Jews: Destinies Undone was directed by Moroccan filmmaker Younwa Laghrari. Although both Jews and Muslims emphasize that the relationship between them had been very good, most Jews left Morocco between 1948-1970. Laghrari is at first unable to find a satisfying answer to the question of what led to this mass emigration. Was it the religious yearning for Israel, the economic crisis, or the promises of Zionist envoys? Was it sparked by conflict in the Middle East, Arab nationalism, and Moroccan relations with Israel? The director discusses these issues with historians, witnesses and emigrants.

Films by Moroccan Jews in the Diaspora

Moroccan Jews living in Canada and France have directed films that helped them explore why their families and the Jewish people left Morocco. Here are French-language versions of two of these films.

They were Promised the Sea (2013)

Kathy Wazana, a Casablanca-born Canadian Jewish filmmaker directed this documentary to examine why hundreds of thousands of Jews left Morocco since 1948. What she found was a country still grieving the loss of its Jewish population. Her investigation reveals the calculations and political maneuvers that led to the mass migration of Jews, an exodus inextricably linked to the Partition of Palestine, the creation of the “state of Israel” and the dispossession and exile of the Palestinian people. As witnesses in the Amazigh (Berber) villages of southern Morocco recall efforts by Muslim neighbors to prevent their Jewish compatriots from leaving, the commonly held belief that Jews were expelled or forced to leave Morocco takes on a new meaning. Along the way, other myths are shattered. Told through the director’s personal lens and the journey of second-generation Moroccan Israeli Shira Ohayon, the film takes us through the Atlas Mountains, accompanied a soundtrack that features Sami Shalom Chetrit’s poetry dedicated to Mahmoud Darwish, as well as Andalusian and other Moroccan music, performed in Judeo-Arabic, Arabic, Hebrew and Haketia, featuring Françoise Atlan, Salim Halali, Rabbi Haïm Louk, Abderrahim Abdelmoumen, Si Thami Harrak and the Soufi Orchestra of Tétouan.

The Midnight Orchestra (2016)

In this film by French-Moroccan Jewish writer-director Jérôme Cohen-Olivar, the estranged son of a famous Moroccan Andalusian Gharnati singer, Marcel Botbol, is unexpectedly transformed after returning to Morocco. Michael Abitbol (Avishay Benazra) left Casablanca and his father as a child during the tensions of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. After decades of silence and buried memories, he returns home to visit his father and make peace with his past. When death claims his father immediately after his arrival, Michael seeks to understand the legacy of this extraordinarily popular singer, a man largely unknown to him. With the help of a comical Muslim cab driver (Aziz Dadas) and a host of other quirky characters, he sets off on an adventure to track down the surviving members of his father’s orchestra and fulfill the old man’s dying wish, finding friendship and rediscovering his cultural roots along the way. The famous French-Moroccan comedian Gad Elmaleh plays the role of Rabbi Moshe. The Moroccan comedian Hassan El Fad plays Mr. Hazan. “The Midnight Orchestra” won the Ecumenical Jury Prize at the 2015 Montréal World Film Festival.

Films by Israeli Directors

A Song of Loves: Rabbi David Buzaglo (2015)

This film by Israeli director Rafael Balulu, whose family emigrated from Morocco, is a documentary on the life of the extraordinarily popular singer of baqashot (supplications) and piyyutim (poems sung at Jewish life cycle events, holidays and at pilgrimages to the tombs of Jewish saints) Rabbi David Buzaglo, who left Morocco for Israel in 1965. The film includes interviews with family, friends, colleagues, students, and scholars of North African Jews and liturgical music. It features baqashot and piyyutim written and performed by Rabbi Buzaglo and others as well as video from Casablanca (in black and white) and 1960s-1970s Israel.