WASHINGTON (Washington Jewish Week via JTA) — A five-year program to repair Morocco’s Jewish cemeteries was cited as an example of “peaceful coexistence” at a Washington ceremony marking its accomplishments.
Houses of Life, as the program is known, was celebrated Tuesday at a congressional office building. The effort, which is under the auspices of the Moroccan government, has repaired some 12,600 graves. Upkeep and protection of the cemeteries is the next phase.
Until the program’s launch in 2010, most of the 167 Jewish cemeteries in Morocco, a predominantly Muslim country, had deteriorated to the point where they were merely untended land with scattered debris and broken gravestones.
Morocco is home to about 3,000 Jews, who live mostly in the cities.
The program demonstrates that Jews are an important part of Morocco’s heritage, said Serge Berdugo, president of the Council of Jewish Communities of Morocco, at the ceremony, which included speeches by Moroccan, Jewish, Catholic and Muslim leaders.
Berdugo praised the restoration work, which was done under the direction of King Mohammed VI, for its interfaith efforts in the Muslim country. In a world where there is “so much hatred between Muslims and Jews,” he said, Houses of Life stands out as an example “of peaceful coexistence.”
“May we go on working our way peacefully in the memories of all the deceased,” he said. “May they rest in peace.”
The ceremony was co-hosted by the Council of Jewish Communities of Morocco and the American Jewish Committee, which is a partner of the Moroccan Jewish body and maintains close ties with a number of North African governments.
Also speaking at the ceremony were Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is Jewish, and Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., who is a Muslim.
Both spoke of the positive influence that the project could have in the immediate wake of a massive terrorist attack by Islamists in Paris, and on resistance in the United States to taking in Syrian refugees.