First Day In Morocco

It is hard to believe that our first day in Morocco is already over! For many of us, I think that today was spent attempting to register that we were actually in Morocco and battling jet lag. I would argue that some of us were more successful than others.

Our flight was an early indication of the things and people we would encounter when we arrived in Morocco: young families and college students returning home for visits, other Jews coming to explore the history of the Jewish community, school groups travelling to the country to study french, Muslims who prayed in the airport before we left, and so many others.

Once we retrieved all of our lugguage, we hit the ground running in Casablanca. We made our way to a Jewish club for lunch and a breifing. On the way, we learned some history from our tour guide, Rafi. We have an incredible resource in Rafi, who is a Moroccan Jew who left Morocco as a child, only to return later in life to dedicate his time to researching and educating others on the history of the Jewish community in the country. He told us about the two Jewish communities in Morocco, the "settled" Jews and the "thrown out" Jews. The settled Jews are those who are descendents of the Jews who came to Morocco after the destruction of the second Temple and the Berber converts to Judaism. They largely lived in the southern parts of the country. The thrown out Jews are those who arrived as a result of expulsion from Spain, and they lived in the north of the country. These two Jewish communities lived seperately for many years, though it appears that the destinction is less clear in the modern Jewish community.

Rafi told us that at its peak, the Jewish community in Morocco was nearly 300,000, though now the community numbers around 4,000 individuals. The largest portion of the community lives in Casablanca, and I was surprised to learn that despite the small size, Casablanca is home to a large number of synagogues, Jewish butchers, kosher restaurants, Jewish schools, and Jewish clubs. According to Rafi, though the community is small, it is fairly traditional in its observance.

We had the opportunity to meet with the US Consul General to get a greater understanding of the relationship between the US and Morocco. We were also briefed on the history of JDC in the area, and JDC's work in Morocco. These briefings gave us a great context for the rest of the trip, and will be especially helpful in the site visits that we will attend tomorrow!

We finished the "content" portion of our day with a visit to the Jewish Museum, which is the only Jewish museum in the Arab world. Inside, we got to see an amazing collection of Judaica that were collected from old synagogues, genizot, and members of the Jewish community from across the country. This museum highlighted the rich history of the Jewish community in Morocco, which we will get to learn even more about as the trip progresses. I was really interested to learn that the king of Morocco has been very intentional in mandating that all Moroccan students learn about the history of the Jewish community in the country and about the Holocaust.

We ended our day with some much needed rest time and a delicious dinner. It is exciting to see our group start to gel together! We are 17 young adults from across the country with very different careers, backgrounds, and levels of engagement in the Jewish community, yet we have come together with a shared interest in exploring this unique place and Jewish community. I am so excited to see what the week holds for us!

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May 26, 2014 at 11:33 PM




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