Randy's Corner Deli Library

15 November 2003

A dilemma for Moroccan Jews: Leave amid terrorism fears, or keep alive an
ancient heritage?

ANGELA DOLAND, Associated Press Writer

Saturday, November 8, 2003

CASABLANCA, Morocco (AP) --

Harry Amar worries his little sister will never know the Morocco he grew up
in, a land where Jews and Muslims lived comfortably side by side.

Three-year-old Audrey's Jewish preschool was evacuated a few weeks ago in a
bomb scare, and she has to cross a police barrier every day just to get to

"I'm afraid about what it's going to do to her psyche," Harry, 26, says
during a break at his office supplies import business. "It's tough ...
especially if you're just a child."

This kingdom on Africa's northwestern shoulder was long held up as an
example of Jewish-Muslim coexistence, a sign of hope that peace was possible
between Israelis and Palestinians. But Morocco's ancient Jewish community --
the largest in the Arab world -- has become a target.

Suicide bombers killed 45 people -- including 12 attackers -- in Casablanca
on May 16. No Jews were killed, but three of the five bombs targeted symbols
of Morocco's Jewish presence: a cemetery, a community center and a
Jewish-owned restaurant.

In September, two Jewish men were murdered, one stabbed on his way to
synagogue, the other shot point-blank by masked assailants. Police believe
one killing was carried out by extremists, but say the motive for the other
is unclear.

The attacks have stunned Moroccans, who pride themselves on tolerance and
had been largely spared from terrorism.

Now, Jews are pondering whether it is safe to stay. Many are determined to
stick it out, saying it would be a disaster for Morocco -- and for history
-- if the few remaining Jews packed their bags.

After decades of emigration, there are only 3,000 to 5,000 Jews living in
Morocco, down from 280,000 in 1948. Many went to Israel. Others fled
Morocco's poverty to find a better life in France or Canada.

Harry Amar says only a few of his childhood friends are still here. All his
aunts and uncles moved to Israel or France.

"If I had the choice, I wouldn't be here," says Amar, who has spent time in
Britain and Israel. Now he dreams of New York.

Joe Kadoch, who runs the restaurant targeted in the May bombings, says
Morocco's Jews have lost their lightheartedness since the attacks.

"There is a before and after," he says. "Before, it was Morocco. We had
confidence in the future ... I think all that has collapsed."

With the dwindling of the Jewish community, Muslims have less and less
contact with Jews, Kadoch says, so there are fewer chances to break down
stereotypes and hate.

Before the mass departures, "every Moroccan guy had a Jewish buddy. It's not
like that anymore," Kadoch says at his quiet Italian restaurant. The elegant
entrance hall, decorated with mirrors and chandeliers, was wrecked by the

Kadoch reopened two weeks later. He says he needed to get on with life, and
he plans to make that life in Morocco. "If the (Jewish) community
disappears, a history of thousands of years would crumble."

The first Jews settled in Morocco 2,000 years ago, about six centuries
before the Arabs brought Islam to North Africa.

While there have been dark chapters -- like the expulsion of Jews from some
Moroccan cities in the 18th century, and deadly anti-Semitic riots in 1948
-- the lot of Jews here was better overall than in Europe, community leaders
say. While the Inquisition raged in Spain, for example, Spanish Jews found
refuge in Morocco.

During World War II, when the Nazis came hunting for Jews in the then French
territory, Morocco's sultan told them: "There are no Jews, only Moroccans."

Morocco's government supported the Arab-Israel peace process from the
earliest stages. The late King Hassan II welcomed Israeli leaders for talks
when other Arab leaders shunned them, and the kingdom was the venue for the
secret talks that led to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's historic visit to
Jerusalem in 1977.

Today, one of King Mohammed VI's most influential advisers, Andre Azoulay,
is Jewish -- unthinkable elsewhere in the Muslim world.

In Casablanca, a city of more than 3 million people, kosher butcher shops
sit on streets lined with Arab groceries. There are more than 30 synagogues
in a city where the call to Muslim prayers echoes over the dilapidated
rooftops from the minarets of several hundred mosques.

Many Moroccans are proud to have a Jewish community. Soon after the bombings
in May, hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in Casablanca, waving
banners that read, "Say no to hate!" About 1,200 Jews, including children,
felt safe enough to join in.

"Everyone applauded us and kissed us," says Serge Berdugo, president of the
Jewish community's council. He believes Muslim extremists aren't targeting
Jews specifically, but rather Morocco's open and tolerant society.

There is a growing Islamic fundamentalist movement. It has won support by
distributing food, paying hospital bills for the destitute and teaching
reading in a nation where one of two people is illiterate.

When police staged a terrorism crackdown after the Casablanca bombings,
among those rounded up were extremist Muslim preachers who told followers
that killing a Jew is not a sin.

Simon Levy, who heads a foundation to preserve the country's Jewish
heritage, believes the Jews must stay in Morocco to provide a lesson in
tolerance that will fight the spread of Islamic extremism.

Levy's Foundation of Judeo-Moroccan Cultural Heritage restores crumbling,
abandoned synagogues. At those that cannot be saved, treasures like
hammered-silver chandeliers and ornate pulpits go into a museum.

Levy has a double mission: He's putting relics on exhibit to record Jewish
life in Morocco, in case the Jews disappear. At the same time, he's trying
to show people the value of that life to keep them here.

"As long as we have a small community here, we are not just history," Levy
says. "It's easy to leave; you just have to buy the plane ticket. It's
harder to stay. That's more beautiful and more meaningful."


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