Jewish heritage preserved in Casablanca museum

Friday 04/09/2015
Torah scroll at the Casablanca Museum of Moroccan Judaism

CASABLANCA - Casablanca’s Museum of Moroccan Judaism is the only Jewish museum in the Arab world. Founded in 1997, the museum of­fers a large display of priceless Jew­ish heritage, including jewellery, traditional Moroccan Jewish wed­ding dresses and photographs from across Morocco.
Museum curator Zhor Rehihil said the museum was founded by Serge Berdugo, Jacques Toledano, Bo­ris Toledano and Simon Levy with support from the Moroccan govern­ment and the Ministry of Culture.
The new Moroccan constitution is clearly displayed at the museum’s entrance as a testament to the coun­try’s ethnic and religious diversity. “The new constitution emphasises both ethnic and religious pluralism in Morocco,” Rehihil said.
Muslims represent 99% of the Moroccan population but Jews lived in the North African kingdom well before the advent of Islam. Their numbers grew after every persecu­tion in Europe, especially following the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century.
In the 1940s, Morocco’s Jewish population exceeded 250,000. Af­ter the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, thousands of Jews left the kingdom to seek a new life there. As a result, the Jewish community in Morocco now numbers 3,000.
The museum displays hundreds of artefacts produced on Moroc­can soil, some of which date to the 19th century. A Torah rolled in handcrafted batons and written in Morocco on parchment in the 20th century is a rare masterpiece.
Perhaps the most striking object in the museum is the reconstructed jewellery-making shop of Saul Co­hen, who died in 2007. The work­bench and all the tools used until 1999, when the shop was closed, were reconstructed in the museum.
“We kept the photo of late King Mohammed V, which was hung on the shop’s wall. It clearly showed his allegiance to the king,” said Re­hihil.
“Jews living abroad visit King Mohammed V’s mausoleum when­ever they come to Morocco for pil­grimage, because they deem him as a Tzadikim (righteous man),” she added.
Rehihil also highlighted the grow­ing interest of university students in the museum.
“Some universities have cre­ated research departments about Morocco’s heritage. Every year, we receive over 20 students in the mu­seum who carry out research about Moroccan Jewish identity and herit­age,” he said.
Rehihil noted that many visitors come from Middle Eastern and Gulf Arab countries.
“Arab tourists who visit the Has­san II mosque come to the museum as well, especially when they find out it is the only Jewish museum in the Arab world,” said the curator.
“They are very surprised when they learn about this precious her­itage that has existed for thousands of years in a Muslim country.”