Royal Project to Restore Jewish Cemeteries: Houses of Life
In May 2010, a rabbi from New York met with King Mohammed VI to express his concern about the poor state of many Jewish cemeteries in Morocco. The King recognized the importance to Moroccan culture and heritage of restoring and rehabilitating these cemeteries.
Consequently, he initiated a project that enabled the Government to partner with the Jewish community in restoring 167 out of 200 cemeteries over the next four-five years. The project was entitled “Houses of Life,” which are the Hebrew words used at the entrance of Moroccan Jewish cemeteries.
The King asked the Council of Jewish Communities of Morocco, headed by Serge Berdugo, to partner with Ministry of Interior and the Head Rabbi in implementing this project. Almost all of the cemeteries and many shrines of Jewish saints were restored by 2015. They are an extraordinary testament of the commitment of the King and Moroccans to preserve Jewish heritage in the country.
Status of Jewish Cemeteries in 2010
The project began by taking a census of Jewish cemeteries and their status. Other than some of the large new cemeteries in cities such as Casablanca and Rabat, almost all of the Jewish cemeteries were neglected and in some cases served as trash heaps. However, it was clear that many of the Muslim neighbors of the cemeteries continued to respect them, sometimes up to 70 years after the last Jew left the community.
The project implementers decided to restore 167 out of the 200 cemeteries they inventoried. Within some of the cemeteries, they decided to restore the shrines of many Jewish saints and even build prayer rooms.
Here are some of the accomplishments of the “House of Life” project, which was implemented by 76 companies:
|Construction of Walls (m2)||42,000|
|Removal of weeds and cleaning (m2)||198,000|
|Paving and Tiling (m2)||49,700|
|Repair of Damaged Tombs (units)||12,600|
In addition, the project mapped each cemetery, photographed each tomb and digitized the photographs and names of the deceased for creation of a national cemetery database for all religions managed by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs.
Location of Restored Cemeteries
Most of the restored cemeteries are in the regions Souss-Massa-Draa, Marrakesh-Tensift-Al Haouz and Meknes-Tafilelt.
Types of Cemeteries and Tombstones
The Houses of Life project identified four types of cemeteries: mountainside, open or walled, seaside, and those with ancient tombstones. Several types of tombstones exist in Jewish cemeteries: stone (Debdou); rock (Figuig); traditional (Marrakesh); stone tombs (Sale); tile mausoleums (Fez); monumental marble tombs (Rabat new cemetery); architecturally designed tombs (Casablanca new cemetery); tombs built into walls (Meknes); and anthropomorphic (human figure) tombs (coastal cemeteries).
In response to King Mohammed VI’s initiative to restore Jewish cemeteries and saints’ tombs, 26 rabbis from Morocco, Israel and other countries that host Moroccan Jews and their descendants wrote a joint letter thanking him for his commitment to preserving Moroccan Jewish heritage.