Historic Catastrophe : the Agony of Essaouira

Historic Catastrophe : the Agony of Essaouira

Much of the available online literature provides a positive description of Jewish/Arabic settlement in Morocco,  suggesting a substantial legacy of intra-racial tolerance,  accord and cultural harmony.  Indeed,  Morocco seems to be advertising this positive relationship in its marketing and promotional campaigns to attract tourists from Arab, Christian and Jewish diasporas.  The specific qualities that a Jewish workforce brought to Morocco ( including banking,  usery,  jewel-making and contacts with the West ) were considered invaluable to Morocco’s economic expansion and world trade by former sultans.

But is this portrayal true?  What really was the relationship between the originally settled Jewish communities across the Mahgreb and Arab invaders?   What agreements and covenants were agreed and signed to facilitate peace and ordered co-habitiation?   What socio/economic/political factors influenced that relationship and the lifestyle of Jews under Arab rule?  Does a better understanding of the experiences of Jews living in Arab controlled countries and under Arab dominion for almost a thousand years contribute to a broader understanding of the Arabic-Jewish debate?

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A Tale of Harira in Meknes

A Tale of Harira in Meknes

Link to a full Gallery of images here.

The low concrete dwelling was as white as the line of old tombs to its right, sepulchres built into the tall medina wall which formed one boundary of the old cemetery. A young boy emerged from the dwelling and approached me, his  body appearing to lope rather than walk,  his eyes cast mostly downwards.  Another child emerged from the white dwelling and made her way towards us.  In contrast she walked straight up to me, looked me in the eye, and in a moment of young feminine purpose extended her arm palm open, smiled disarmingly and asked me without any shame whatsoever for ‘l’argent’.

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Apostasy, Lalla Soulika and the Jewish Cemetery of Fes

Apostasy, Lalla Soulika and the Jewish Cemetery of Fes

The group of Hasidic Jews from New York congregated around the mausoleum of Rabbi Vidal Haserfatty, a large tomb which looked down over the extended white blanket of graves of Beit HaChaim, the restored Jewish cemetery at the edge of the ancient mellah in Fes.  After completing a number of rituals inside the little room they climbed back down the steps and threaded their way through smaller tombs to a blue shrine in the  middle of the white expanse. There they quietly began again the rituals of veneration for a saint significant to both Judaic and Muslim faiths. Of even greater significance and rarity the saint was female.

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