Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Morocco -- Casablanca Jewish Museum

An article in the United Arab Emirates English language newspaper , The National, highlights the privately run Jewish Museum in Casablanca, Morocco, founded in 1997 and the first and to date only Jewish museum in the Arab world.

Jewish Museum Showcases Unity

John Thorne, Foreign Correspondent

Dec. 2, 2008

Simon Levy, left, the director of the Jewish museum in Morocco, speaks to visitors. Eve Coulon for The National

CASABLANCA // Ten years ago, Jewish fathers in Morocco looked at demographics and decided it was time to build a museum.

Morocco’s once-thriving Jewish community has shrunk to a handful since the creation of Israel in 1948. Today, Simon Levy, a linguist and historian, fights doggedly to preserve its memory as director of the Arab world’s only Jewish museum.

Mr Levy recently played host to a group of high school students. For most, it was their first exposure to Jewish Morocco. While Mr Levy normally sees a trickle of foreign Jewish tourists, his target audience are Muslim youngsters.

“More than anything, I want them to learn that there’s a different way of being Moroccan,” Mr Levy said.


The Casablanca Jewish Museum was the subject of a longer article in The Forward last year.

Interestingly, it was also the subject of one of the papers presented at the conference on Representations of Jews in European Popular Culture, which I attended last week at the European University Institute in Fiesole, near Florence.

Jewish Museums in general formed the theme of one of the conference sessions.

In her presentation, "The Jewish Museum in Casablanca: Formation and Reflection of Contemporary Jewish Identity," Sophie Wagenhofer of the Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin, who also has worked at the Casablanca Museum, gave a description of its history and focus and also dealt with the way in which the museum presents the view of Moroccan Jews as Moroccans, part and parcel of national history, culture and society -- as she put it, "inscribing a minority's identity in the national identity".

She wrote:

[A] vital message of the exhibit is to strengthen the sameness of Muslims and Jews, which was done by referring to culture rather than religion. Muslims and Jews alike share the fields of culture, politics and economy as Moroccans in general, whereas from the point of religion the groups differ. Thus jewelry and everyday life items play a considerable role.

Here is how the article in The National puts it:

[The museum's founder and director, Simon Levy, asks visiting highschool] students to identify the Jews and Muslims in an old photograph. They guess unsuccessfully for a moment, then Mr Levy asks what the picture represents.

“Mixing?” a girl said.“No!” Levy said. “Because they are the same.”

Jews and Muslims share many customs that mark them as Moroccans, Mr Levy tells the students. They speak Moroccan Arabic, eat couscous and tajines, drink green tea laced with mint and make pilgrimages to the shrines of local Jewish and Muslim saints.

For a web site devoted to Jewish history, tourism and travel in Morocco, click HERE.

No comments:

Post a Comment