On Mar. 15, King Mohammed VI of Morocco honored Rabbi Raphael Benchimol of Manhattan Sephardic Congregation. The rabbi expressed high praise for his native country.
"Although we left Morocco, Morocco never leaves us. It is deeply engraved in our hearts," said Benchimol at the event.
Moroccan rulers have previously demonstrated interest in maintaining good relations with their Jewish expats.
In 1963, Mohammed VI’s father, King Hassan II, feted a Jewish delegation in New York, including the president of the Alliance.
He listened attentively as Rabbi Moise Ohana, a native of Meknes who lives in Montreal, spoke in French of the bond that ties Moroccan Jews living abroad to their native land.
He was followed by Rabbi Abraham Ben-Haim, also from Meknes and now of Queens, who pronounced the traditional Hebrew blessings on being in the presence of a king.
In response, Hassan II rose from his "throne" and, speaking in Arabic, told of the many links between Jews and Moslems as "children of one flesh — Abraham."
Pointing out the fact that Moroccan Jews may enter and leave Morocco freely, the king said: "Bring your children with you when you come, so that they may know of the Jewish sages who are buried in our land and of the many Jewish traditions that are still alive in our country."
In a 1993 feature, JTA noted that many rabbis were departing their native land in search of opportunity for their family:
Rabbi Avraham Sabagh is leaving Morocco for good this year, bringing to an end his family’s five-century presence in the North African kingdom.
Sabagh lives in Fez, attending to the spiritual needs of the shrinking Jewish community, which once boasted 20,000 but presently numbers fewer than 250 people.
He is the sole member of his family who remains in Morocco. His wife and two children live in Paris, where he goes to visit them every several weeks.
The bearded, stocky rabbi is not happy about leaving the country of his birth. "But there is no future here for my children," he sighs.
It is a mournful observation echoed by Jews throughout the country, as they face the slow but inevitable decline of their community and send almost all of their children overseas to attend college, to find spouses and to start careers.
Filmmaker Dina Kadisha traveled with an American Joint Distribution Committee trip to Morocco in 2010. Take a look at the young community today in Kadisha’s short film, "Inside Jewish Morocco."