Journey Into Morocco’s Past through The New York Center For Jewish History

EXHIBITIONS:

Source: Morocco Board, 1-2-11

Sometimes a museum exhibit invites us to inquire further and uncover a body of knowledge that was always there, that others have studied for decades (if not centuries), and that changes the way we look at things.  The small but well-designed museum exhibit, Looking Back: The Jews of Morocco held at the Center for Jewish History in New York City, running through April 18, 2011, is one of these “inviting” museum exhibits.

Taken together with the masterful and lyrical opening night keynote address by University of Oklahoma Professor Norman A. Stillman introducing it on October 14, 2010, the exhibit is recommended for all who are interested in the subject of Jews in Morocco or the Sephardic Jewish experience in North Africa.[1] This article will give an overview of the event and add context with supplemental sources.

Integration of Jews in Morocco for Centuries

The museum provides a selective history of the Jews in Morocco from their arrival in Morocco around 586 B.C.E. (the period of the destruction of the First Temple) to the present.  A series of panels covers their experience and contributions from the earliest Jewish settlements in pre-Islamic times, through the arrival of Arab populations and thereafter, and through the era of the French protectorate (commencing in 1912) and World War II; Moroccan independence in 1956; and the mass Jewish emigration from Morocco.

A key theme of the exhibit is the integration of Jews into Moroccan society. The first panel entitled “Introduction of Moroccan Jewry” notes that “Jews settled among the Berber population [in Morocco] in the pre-Islamic period, and some Berber tribes are said to have converted to Judaism.” Another adds: “A symbiotic relationship between Berbers and Jews was rich and enduring over the centuries.  Conversant in Berber dialects, Jews dressed like Berbers, practiced saint worship like them, and participated in … [their] celebrations.”[2] According to a separate essay by Yaelle Azagury, “[i]n some regions of the Atlas Mountains, Jews lived so close to traditional Arab tribes that one could hardly tell the difference: They looked like Arabs, spoke only Arabic, and possessed a limited awareness of the modern world.”[3] To the same effect, Professor Daniel Schroeter observed in another source that in “Berber-speaking regions, Jews were usually bilingual, speaking Berber with their Muslim neighbors, and Judeo-Arabic at home.  In a few of the most isolated communities of the High Atlas, some Jewish communities spoke Berber only.”[4]READ MORE

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