This week, Yael visited Morocco on a bridge-building trip. Writing about her time there at JNS, she ponders on the legacy left by the Moroccan Jewish community:
I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. There I was, an Orthodox Israeli Jew, at a 500-year-old synagogue in Marrakesh, distributing food parcels to Muslims for Ramadan, representing the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship) on behalf of millions of Christians in the U.S. and worldwide.
It just didn’t make sense. It seemed too good to be true. But as I quickly learned, it was just another day in mystical Morocco, a country that defies norms, defines tolerance and is home to a dwindling population of 2,500 Jews.
Though Morocco is a Muslim country, the bellboy at my hotel told me with a loving smile, Jews were actually in Morocco 600 years before Muslims—when they were sent out of Jerusalem following the destruction of the First Temple.
“This is your home,” the bellboy said, while pointing to a picture on the wall of the Atlas Mountains. “Your people were here before mine.”
This respectful attitude was the prevailing sentiment in my communications with every Muslim I met during my stay. Moroccans are genuine in their respect for the Jewish people, love for Moroccan Jews, and awe for the holy rabbis who walked their streets and are buried in the Jewish cemetery. I nearly cried when I saw how well the locals preserve the Jewish cemetery.
“Why do you treat the Jews so well?” I asked a Muslim teenager who works for an organization called Mimouna, whose members are Muslim youths passionate about spreading Jewish history. Mimouna made history by starting a Jewish studies program at a Moroccan Arab university, along with the Arab world’s only Holocaust education program.
“Why wouldn’t we treat them well?” he responded…