Morocco’s Jewish history dates back over 2000 years. Since the 7th century Jews lived as Dhimmi – a protected minority under the Islamic Principle of Tolerance – and flourished, holding high positions in trade and government. Jews and Muslims were united by culture and Kingdom. During WWII, under the French Vichy Protectorate, King Mohammed V responded to Nazi demands for a list of Jews with his famous words: “We have no Jews in Morocco, only Moroccan citizens.”
In the 1940′s Morocco had 300,000 Jews, the largest population in the Muslim World. After the formation of Israel, Zionists looked to Morocco’s Jews for their large population and ability to co-exist with Arabs. With promises of prosperity in Israel, fears after the Holocaust, and rising Arab nationalism an exodus of Moroccan Jewry began. May left peaceful peasant lives only to be placed in the harsh deserts of Israel and along the volatile border regions where they worked to build what is modern day Israel. Today, only 3000 Jews remain in Morocco.
In Israel, Moroccan Jews were pushed to abandon their language and Arab culture. Shamed by their likeness to the enemy at their borders, their identities were forced to change. In Morocco, the community remains in decline. A population aging while the youth, who identify with the West, leave for their educations rarely to return.
Throughout the country, Muslim Guardians protect synagogues, cemeteries and the tombs of Holy Jews or Sadik – legendary Rabbis known for their miracles that remain destinations for pilgrimage. In Morocco memories of the Jews are often connected to an idea of the golden years. Many saw them as brothers, growing up together, living under one god and sharing culture and history.
This project is an exploration of Jewish Morocco’s lingering ghosts. It examines the vestiges of a history of a co-existence while confronting the peripheral sacrifices of Zionism. It is a sober retrospective of a time and place where Jews and Arabs lived peacefully as neighbors and Moroccans and a reminder that the sentiments of animosity and hatred prevalent today are shallower than they appear.