A Champion of Moroccan Culture and Political Activism - World Jewish Congress
A Champion of Moroccan Culture and Political Activism
Simon Lévy (1934–2011)

Simon Lévy (1934–2011), a fervent political activist and defender of Moroccan Jewish heritage, was born in Fez, Morocco, into a family deeply rooted in the traditional Jewish culture of northern Morocco. A skilled linguist and anthropologist, Lévy's commitment to Moroccan independence began in his late teens. By 1954, he had joined the Moroccan Workers' Union, the National Moroccan Student Union, and the Moroccan Communist Party. 

Lévy was an active member of the National Union of Moroccan Students and a member of the executive office since 1955. He was one of the leaders of the National Confederation of Education between 1958 and 1970. Lévy held a degree in Spanish and Portuguese Literature (1956), a postgraduate diploma (1958), and a doctorate (1990) with a thesis on Arabic dialects of Moroccan Jews. He also authored several works on the history of Moroccan Jews. 

During the French colonization of Morocco, Lévy refused French citizenship despite being eligible due to his Jewish heritage. Consequently, he was not allowed to enter France and lived without citizenship for over 24 years until the Moroccan nationality law was issued in 1958. 

Despite facing adversity, Lévy remained committed to the Communist Party when a far-left faction broke away during the political turmoil of the 1960s. As the party underwent multiple reorganizations and name changes, Lévy ascended its leadership ranks. In the 1990s, he ran for the position of secretary general of the Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS), the party's successor, but lost to Nabil Benabdallah. 

F1 simon levy
Simon Lévy’s 1976 election poster. Source: Simon Lévy’s personal papers

Lévy's political career also included a stint as a member of the Casablanca municipal council from 1976 to 1983. Collaborating with labor activists and educators, he played a critical role in establishing libraries across the city. Throughout his life, Lévy held editorial positions at various leftist-nationalist journals such as La Nation, Al Jamahir, and Al Bayane. He was the editor-in-chief of the newspapers La Nacion and Al Jamahir in 1958 and 1959. 

Lévy staunchly defended the concept that Jewish identity was an integral part of Moroccan national identity and promoted the idea of a pluralistic state. Unsurprisingly, he played a central role in post-independence Moroccan political and social debates, advocating for a democratic country in which all Moroccans enjoy full citizenship rights irrespective of their religious or ethnic affiliations. Lévy was an active member of the Party of Progress and Socialism and was praised by its central committee as a distinguished leader. He was arrested several times in the 1950s and 1960s due to his connections to the Communist Party and outspoken nature.  

In the 1990s, Lévy's expertise in Moroccan Jewish languages, particularly Haketía (Moroccan Judeo-Spanish), led him to join the Spanish Department at the renowned Mohammed V University in Rabat. In 1997, his personal background, academic prowess, and political activism culminated in the establishment of Le Musée du Judaïsme Marocain (Foundation and Museum for Moroccan Jewish Heritage) in Casablanca, a testament to his dedication to preserving and promoting Jewish heritage within Morocco and beyond. The museum celebrates the rich artistic and cultural diversity of Moroccan Jewish heritage. 

Simon Lévy passed away in Rabat on December 2, 2011, leaving behind a rich legacy of political activism, academic achievements, and cultural preservation. His funeral was attended by prominent government officials and former comrades who recognized his immense contributions to Moroccan society and Jewish heritage. His life's work serves as an inspiring example of the importance of cultural understanding and coexistence in an increasingly interconnected world. 

After Levy’s death, in 2014, the Simon Lévy award was created by the Mimouna Association, a Moroccan non-profit created by young Muslim students willing to promote and preserve Jewish-Moroccan heritage.  The award recognizes the impact of his lifelong work and serves as a reminder of the importance of cultural preservation and interfaith dialogue by honoring individuals involved in the preservation of Jewish heritage for future generations. 

 Majesty King Mohammed VI sent a message of condolences and "remembers with consideration the qualities and virtues shown by the deceased, as well as his sincere patriotism, his unwavering attachment to the constant values of the Nation and its sacred values, following the example of Our faithful subjects, sons of the Jewish community, in addition to his strong determination to contribute to charitable actions." 

  • Abbey, Alan D. "Simon Levy, Moroccan Jewish Leader, dies at 77." Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 3 Dec. 2011, www.jta.org/2011/12/03/jewish-holidays/hanukkah/simon-levy-moroccan-jewish-leader-dies-at-77.
  • Hafsi, Jamal. "Décès du grand militant juif marocain Simon Lévy." Les Echos du Maghreb, 2 Dec. 2011, jamalhafsi.unblog.fr/2011/12/02/deces-du-grand-militant-juif-marocain-simon-levy/.
  • Heckman, Alma. "Lévy, Simon." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World, edited by Norman A. Stillman, 2016, doi:10.1163/1878-9781_ejiw_SIM_000776.
  • Simon Lévy Retrospective." Diarna, diarna.org/news/simon-levy-retrospective/.
  • Simon Levy's Award." Mimouna, 22 Jan. 2014, mimouna.org/2014/01/22/simon-levys-award/.
  • Heckman, Alma Rachel. The Sultan's Communists: Moroccan Jews and the Politics of Belonging. 1st ed., Stanford Studies in Jewish History and Culture, Stanford University Press, 2020.
About Morocco

In the winding medinas of Fez and Marrakech, Moroccan Jews have been part of the Kingdom’s vibrant fabric for centuries. The Jewish coexisted with Muslims flourishing as scholars, artisans, and traders from the time of the Phoenicians. By the 1940s, Morocco had the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world.

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