Background Report the Jews of Morocco

The nearly 15,000 Jews in Morocco, scene of this week’s dramatic talks between King Hassan and Israeli Premier Shimon Peres, enjoy religious freedom as well as the right to emigrate to Israel, a step taken over the years by some 350,000 Jews who have left for Israel since 1948.

Beyond these freedoms, unusual inasmuch that Morocco is a Moslem nation and technically at a state of war with Israel, the Jewish community also runs a vast support network of Jewish welfare and educational institutions, operated with government approval and support and with funds from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Nevertheless, while relations between the Moroccan Jewish community and the King remain cordial, it was reportedly King Hassan who in 1984 prevented entry to an international conference in Marrakesh of an Israeli writer and philosopher, Aharon Amir. He was invited to the World Conference on Poetry by its chairman, former Senegalese President Leopold Senghor.

This was ironic since just several months earlier, a 35-member Israeli delegation went to Rabat to attend the first National Conference of Moroccan Jewish Communities. They were invited with the consent of King Hassan. The delegation consisted of Knesset members, academics, mayors, and Israeli journalists. Crown Prince Sidi Mohammed, Hassan’s son, addressed the conference’s closing session.

EXPRESSIONS OF SUPPORT

Similar expressions of support between the Jewish community and Hassan occurred when nearly the entire Moroccan Jewish community turned out on masse to celebrate in March 1984 the 23rd anniversary of their King’s ascension to the throne.

In each of the major cities, including Casablanca, Tangiers, Fez, Marrakesh and Rabat, the Jewish community renewed its pledge of loyalty and support for the King at huge parties and dinners, wrote Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent Milton Jacoby from Casablanca.

Jacoby quoted an unidentified Moslem leader who was president of the Municipal Council of Marrakesh as saying, “There’s never been any real differences in Morocco between the Mussulman and Jew. Let us inspire in our children and grandchildren the same spirit of amity that bring us here tonight.”

David Amar, head of the Moroccan Jewry since 1956, said in an interview with the JTA that the Jews of Morocco consider themselves “Moroccans first and foremost.” He said the “response of Jewry on March 3rd was to confirm our allegiance to our King.”

JEWISH COMMUNAL ORGANIZATIONS

Many of the Jews in Morocco live in Casablanca. Five communities — Marrakesh, Rabat, Meknes, Fez and Tangiers — range in size from about 800 to about 1,000; three range from about 100 to about 5,000 and the rest have 100 or less members, according to the World Jewish Congress.

Each remaining Jewish community has a communal organization, the Committee, and all these are united in a coordinating body, The Council of the Jewish Communities of Morocco, a member organization of the World Jewish Congress. The Council is the representative organ of the Jewish community in matters relating to the institutions of government, according to the WJC.

The schools were established by the Alliance Israelite Universelle in 1862. Curriculum and staff have changed, however, to accommodate the increasing number of Arab students in the schools. The Moroccan government contributes financial assistance. ORT, Ozar Hatorah and the Lubavitch movement also operate schools that have government support, according to the WJC.

An example of JDC activities in Morocco was the shipment to the Jewish community there from New York in 1984 of more than 10,000 Hebrew books, including 8,000 prayer texts for Sephardi rites and 2,000 school texts. The shipment was described as the largest at the time of religious texts in the history of the JDC relationship with Morocco, which dates from 1946.

The JDC budget for aid to Moroccan Jewry was more than 2.2 million in 1985, according to a JDC spokesperson. The JDC maintains an office in Casablanca where the bulk of the Jewish community resides. About half of Morocco’s Jewish community received some sort of assistance from JDC operations. About 1,200 aged or handicapped Moroccan Jews receive cash grants while 1,500 to 1,800 receive monthly food packages. The JDC provides other programs and forms of assistance as well.

MOROCCAN JEWS IN NORTH AMERICA

In October 1985 some 150 delegates representing 750,000 Moroccan-born Jews around the world gathered in Montreal for the first World Assembly of Moroccan Jewry and pledged to help promote a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

Morocco’s Ambassador to Canada, Ahmed Mamoud, told the delegates that their action will “help preserve the identity of your community and guarantee the preservation of the links between the Moslem and Jewish communities of Morocco, ties which contributed greatly to our common national heritage.”

The Assembly reported that about 15,000 Moroccan Jews live in the United States. Montreal, with 30,000 Moroccan-born Jews, has the largest Moroccan Jewish community in North America. The JDC reported that Jewish emigration, which began with the establishment of the State of Israel, continues at a rate of about one percent a year.

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