advertisement

Jews first set foot in Morocco in pre-Christian times, accompanying the Phoenicians on their trade excursions along the country's coastline. Jews also joined waves of Muslims escaping persecution during the Christian conquests of southern Spain. Since the Arab Islamic invasions from the 8th century onward, the two faiths have coexisted mostly in peace, although at times the Jews were used as scapegoats or favored purely for their business acumen. The silversmiths of today are also a product of the craft practiced by many Moroccan Jews up until as late as the 20th century. Prior to World War II, the Jewish population was around 225,000, and although no Jews were sent to concentration camps, they did suffer acts of humiliation under the French Vichy government. After the war, a steady stream of immigration to Israel turned into a flood after independence in 1956, and today's population of Moroccan Jews is considered to number around 10,000 at the most.

Since independence, the ruling Alaouite dynasty has continued a tradition of tolerance and support toward the country's Jewish minority. Hassan II was particularly active in the 1980s in trying to bring peace to the Israeli/Palestine conflict. King Mohammed VI has inherited his father's tolerance, with the appointment of prominent Jewish citizen André Azoulay as one of his royal advisors. In 2000, after two youths vandalized a Tangier synagogue, Mohammed VI appeared on television, decrying the act of interfaith disrespect; the two youths were subsequently sentenced to a year in prison. In 2003, a coordinated series of suicide bombs targeted both Western and Jewish businesses in Casablanca. It's debatable whether the attacks were an act of anti-Semitism or were more of an assault on the country's social and political order, the king himself, and the West in general.

In times past, Jews traditionally lived in a part of the medina called the Mellah. Most have now moved out into the ville nouvelle, although some old synagogues still remain. The majority live in Casablanca, where a visit to the only Jewish museum in the Arabic world is well worth the time. Morocco's Jews are an aging population, as most Jewish youths travel to Israel, the U.S., and France to study.

Jewish travelers in Morocco needn't take any special precautions other than those concerning all travelers. The Conseil des Communautes Israelites du Maroc (CCIM; tel. 0522/222861; comjuive@mail.cbi.net.ma) is based in Casablanca and represents the Jewish community in most matters within Morocco. Morocco Custom Travel (tel. 866/966-7622 toll-free or 209/466-3105; www.moroccocustomtravel.com) is a specialist in tailor-made itineraries and tours to Morocco, with suggested itineraries that include "Spiritual Morocco," which focuses specifically on the country's long Jewish history.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.