The historical quarter of the Jews in Marrakech sees the renewal

November 17, 2017

The as soon as teeming Jewish space of Moroccan vacationer gem Marrakesh is seeing its fortunes revived as guests together with many from Israel flock to expertise its distinctive tradition and historical past.

“You’re now coming into the final synagogue within the mellah,” the walled Jewish quarter within the coronary heart of the ochre metropolis, Isaac Ohayon says as he enthusiastically guides vacationers within the courtyard of the Lazama synagogue.

“Many guests come from Israel—you wouldn’t imagine the demand!” provides the jovial 63-year-old store proprietor.

This place of worship and examine was constructed initially in 1492 through the Inquisition when the Jews had been pushed out of Spain.

Generally known as the “synagogue of the exiles”, it hosted generations of younger Berbers who transformed to Judaism and had been despatched from villages within the area to study the Torah, earlier than lastly being abandoned within the 1960s.

In lecture rooms now reworked right into a museum, fading color pictures inform the story of a now-dispersed neighborhood, with many having left for France, North America and particularly Israel.

The caption on one sepia shot of an outdated man sitting by a pile of trunks says all of it: “They’re travelling in direction of a dream they’ve prayed for for greater than 2,000 years.”

Rebecca is now in her fifties and grew up in Paris, however she has “nice nostalgia” for Morocco and returns as usually as she will be able to.

“The Jewish Company started recruiting the poorest within the 1950s after which everybody left after independence (from France), on the time of King Hassan II’s coverage of Arabisation,” she says.

The Jewish Company of Israel is a semi-official organisation that oversees immigration to the nation.

The final younger Jew

Earlier than the wave of exits, Morocco hosted North Africa’s largest Jewish neighborhood, estimated at between 250,000 and 300,000 individuals.

There are fewer than three,000 left, in line with unofficial figures.

Marrakesh on the foot of the Atlas mountain vary was house to greater than 50,000 Jews, in line with a 1947 census.

Now, 70 years later, round 100 are thought to stay, a lot of them extraordinarily aged.

Jewish-owned properties contained in the mellah had been bought to Muslim households of modest means, and the partitions of the district had been eroded by time.

“Generally we will’t get even 10 males collectively for prayers,” says one girl worshipper on the outdated synagogue, preferring to stay nameless.

However at celebrations marking the top of the pageant of Sukkot, which commemorates the Jewish journey by way of the Sinai after their exodus from Egypt, and the Simchat Torah vacation, the place is buzzing with track, dance and conventional dishes.

The worshipper says she has “by no means seen so many individuals” there.

Jacob Assayag, 26, proudly calls himself “the final younger Jew in Marrakesh”.

“For the reason that quarter was restored, there have been increasingly vacationers,” says the restaurateur and singer.

A restoration challenge begun simply over two years in the past has already seen 17.5 million euros ($20.5 million) spent.

Ferblantiers Sq., a big pedestrian space close to the spice souk lined with benches and palm timber the place vacationer buses collect, additionally benefited from the revamp.

Twenty years in the past, the quarter was renamed “Salaam (‘peace’ in Arabic)”, however this yr noticed its unique “El Mellah” identify restored on the orders of King Mohamed VI “to protect its historic reminiscence” and develop tourism.

A delicate subject

The streets with their ochre facades as soon as extra bear their names on plaques in Hebrew: the synagogue, for instance, is on Talmud Torah Road.

There may be a lot to see contained in the mellah.

Digicam-toting vacationers snap vigorously at shopfronts and the carved wood doorways of homes within the quarter.

“Many individuals come yearly from Israel for the (Jewish) holidays, and this yr has seen much more, perhaps 50,000,” says Israeli vacationer information David, main a gaggle from Tel Aviv through Malaga in Spain on an eight-day journey.

“I really feel at house in Morocco as a result of I used to be born right here,” provides the 56-year-old from the port of Ashdod simply north of the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip.

His mother and father left Marrakesh within the 1960s, when David was simply 4 years outdated, “as a result of they had been Zionists”.

Ohayon says guests from the Jewish state are sometimes greatly surprised by Marrakesh.

“Moroccan Jews can’t neglect their homeland and Israelis who come right here for the primary time discover the spirit of tolerance right here nearly unbelievable once they themselves dwell below fixed pressure,” he says.

Formally, Morocco has neither diplomatic nor financial ties with Israel, as this can be a delicate subject. Simply two Arab states, Egypt and Jordan, have signed peace treaties with the Jewish state.

However in actuality, there are few obstacles to each enterprise and tourism.

Moroccan media reviews say business exchanges between the 2 nations this yr have amounted to greater than 4 million a month.

The dominion, seen as a protected vacation spot, recorded a greater than 10 % rise in vacationer arrivals between January and August this yr over 2016, with eight million guests.