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In Medieval Moroccan City, a Synagogue is Rededicated

Tens of thousands of Jews once lived in the Old City of this former capital of Imperial Morocco.

Now only a handful remain within its walls — most have emigrated to France, Israel or Canada.

But last week about 200 Jews — Moroccans and visitors — braved a driving rain to sing and dance through the medieval streets here as part of a Torah procession to rededicate a historic synagogue.

The rededication of the Danan synagogue, which is more than 200 years old, is the first recent rehabilitation in the Old City of Fez.

The renovation was sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which has declared Fez’s Old City a historic preservation area. Two or three other synagogues in Fez also are expected to be restored as part of the UNESCO program.

The Torah procession and rededication was just one of many events held last week in Morocco commemorating the rich tradition of the country’s Jewish community.

Jews are believed by some to have lived in Morocco for some 2,000 years, and as recently as 1948, there were an estimated 250,000 Jews in the country.

Now, the community has dwindled to an estimated 5,000, the majority of whom live in the country’s capital, Casablanca.

Only about 300 live in Fez. Most live in the new section of the city, built when Morocco was a French protectorate.

The synagogue, which has not been used for about 25 years, will not be used for regular prayers; instead, it will serve as a tribute to the history of Moroccan Jewry.

The synagogue is marked by a dark wooden Torah ark surrounded by a multicolored tile wall. Several chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and a steep staircase leads to the upstairs women’s section.

The rededication, said Henry Danan, a descendant of the person for whom the synagogue is named, will “show to future generations how beautiful Jewish life was in Morocco.”

Several days of events accompanied the rededication. After the official ceremony, which was attended by representatives of the Moroccan government, about 450 people — many of them former Moroccan Jews now living abroad – – celebrated with a gala dinner that featured traditional Moroccan cuisine and Sephardi Jewish and Arabic music.

Rebuilding the synagogue cost approximately $300,000, the majority of which was donated by an association headed by the Danan family, most of whom now live outside of Morocco. The World Monuments Fund, a New York-based organization, provided additional funds.

A foundation established by the Moroccan Jewish community will pay for the upkeep of the synagogue.

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