Jewish museum, French Casablanca

June 29, 2007 at 6:56 pm 2 comments

Jewish museum, French Casablanca

Casablanca’s only museum tells the story of Morocco’s Jewish community. Well-maintained, it sits in a tree-lined suburb with bouganvilla and hisbiscus hedges. A guard welcomed us, and a very kind housekeeper followed us from room to room turning on the lights in the exhibits.

The group sponsoring the museum seems to have collected architectural elements from most of Morocco’s largest synagogues, as well as a few Torahs and ritual objects. A wonderful collection of photographs and a display of Jewish costume emphasize the Moroccan-ness of the Jews that lived here. Silversmithing and jewelry-making.had a prominent place in both Jewish livelihoods and the museum.

Jewish Moroccan, Muslim Moroccan CaptionCaption

I was curious about how the museum (sponsored by the Fondation du patrimoine culturel Judeo-Marocain) would present the experience of Morocco’s Jewish community, most of whom emigrated during the 1950s and 1960s. The official Israeli narrative has long held that the Jews were forced out of Arab lands, an assertion consistent with Zionist ideology (Israel was necessary as the safe refuge for all Jews). Recent research by scholars in Israel and abroad has disputed this narrative. The museum’s brochure emphasizes the continuing Moroccan identity of the expatriate Jews. Like all other Moroccans living outside their homeland, the author claims, the Jews still identify themselves as Moroccan and still belong here. The pamphlet describes Jewish faith and practice in ways that emphasize the clear similarities with Islam (monotheism, similar values, circumcision, laws of purity, ritual sacrifice, use of a directional focus for prayer, charity, belief in the messiah and ressurection, common prophets, and disagreement with Christians over the divinity of Jesus).. Jews had a very long history in the country, and were never forced to leave; they left, the pamphlet claims, because of the combined effects of economic and political change, including the creation of Israel and the fight against the French. Jews had played an important role in the fight for freedom against French rule.

The French were prominent in our travels today. The Habbous Quarter just south of the center of Casablanca was created by France as an alternative “Arab” city during the early twentieth century. French officials disliked what they viewed as the disorder of the old city (hardly old or large–Casablanca was a small town until quite recently.) So they created a brand new “Arab” city that local people could live in and that the French would find more comfortable. The streets are wider, the buildings shorter, the shops more ordered than in the downtown walled madina.

I’ve been quite curious about how Moroccans see their colonial past. In the US, it seems, we never think of the British as our former colonizers. Here, the efficient (French view) and despised (Moroccan perspective) Marshal Lyautey still rides a horse in the square in front of the downtown government building. Why is he still there?

The current king’s Mercedes with its red-star license plate made an already-exciting car ride even more thrilling today as it drove, surrounded by motorcycles, through downtown traffic.

And speaking of traffic, check out the images on the truck. chesmall.jpg

What would Colbert and his nation think of this bilingual sign?




Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Casablanca walks Marrakesh

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Judi Bedrosian  |  June 29, 2007 at 11:40 pm

    Dear Sarah,
    We are enjoying reading your stories and seeing the photos.
    I’ve never blogged before either, but wanted to let you know we are reading along and are so glad you are doing this. Also nice that we can check in with you and William wherever you are over the next months. We’ve already Googled Festival in the Desert. It looks amazing. Happy trails. We’ll be in touch.
    Love and peace
    Judi and Victor

  • 2. Russell  |  July 1, 2007 at 1:12 am

    Another good post.

    monotheism, similar values, circumcision, laws of purity, ritual sacrifice, use of a directional focus for prayer, charity, belief in the messiah and ressurection, common prophets, and disagreement with Christians over the divinity of Jesus

    I’ve had similar thoughts. Perhaps that’s because Jews and Muslims were always lumped together under different-religion-same-God when I was growing up.


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