We sometimes dismiss certain Jewish communities as being a thing of the past. We mesh them into a greater whole and forget about their history and their unique customs.
Many great Sephardi rabbis travelled through and dwelled in Morocco. Many think of the Rambam. Others may remember the Rif and the Ran. But few think about Moroccans Jews living in Morocco today. After all, Rambam was out by the thirteenth century.
Sometimes, we even group this community with Sephardim, overlooking their traditions unparalleled in other countries or varying in specific customs. Take the Mimouna, for example. Not ALL Sephardim typically celebrated the eating of chametz after Pesach an elaborate feast open to all.
When I was in Morocco for five weeks, I was introduced to a new world of Jewry. A world where visiting tzadikim’s graves is prevalent. A world where synagogues are abundant, both in cities and hillside villages.
But most importantly I discovered a world that still exists. It is true that the community has largely dwindled in recent decades, with families moving to France, Canada or Israel. And yes, some cities have barely a minyan for Shabbat. But Casablanca, for one, is a city with many Jews, young and old. Its Jewish facilities are unparalleled in the Arab world. The community in Sale, by Rabat, hosts a hilulah, a celebration, not infrequently, that consistently is reported in the local media.
The Jewish community didn’t end with Rambam. It is not a thing of the past.
More so, those who left Morocco have made a mark on their new communities. Almost every major city in Israel hosts a Mimouna, inviting everyone, not just Moroccans. Moroccan hennas are known even in New York, although often confused with other communities’ henna varieties, such as Yemenites’.
This is a community that is continuously relevant, whether it is in Morocco or in close contact with other Jewish communities elsewhere. Through the ASF Institute for Jewish Experience we have an opportunity to learn more about Moroccan Jewish traditions and appreciate the richness of its customs.