Secretary-general of the WJC-affiliate Council of the Jewish community of Morocco, Serge Berdugo, sat down with Today Morocco to discuss the state of Moroccan Jewry.
Today Morocco: What is the current state of Jewish heritage in Casablanca?
Serge Berdugo: First, you have to realize that Casablanca is a relatively new city. The Jewish community did not settle there until the 1900s. Therefore, all the buildings, Jewish monuments, synagogues, and cemeteries were built in the 20th century. It’s also important to note that the Jewish community of Casablanca comes from many cities in Morocco. In Casablanca there aren't many buildings that have historical significance, but in other cities, such as Tangier, buildings date back as far as the 17th century.. In total, the metropolis includes the synagogue "Beth El," the synagogue "Ettedgui," a new synagogue "David Hamelech" which is in Anfa, the synagogue "Hazan," three schools and two cemeteries. There are about fifteen synagogues in the city overall where prayers are made every day, but the synagogues I mentioned have historical significance.
Today Morocco: Who owns these places of worship?
Serge Berdugo: There are two types of synagogues: there are synagogues like "Beth El" which are community-owned, and there are synagogues which are owned by individuals such as "Ettedgui” which was built by the family who gave its name to the synagogue
Today Morocco: How many Moroccan Jews are there in Casablanca today?
Serge Berdugo: There are around 3,000 Jews in Casablanca and around 3,500 Jews across the country. We have three schools with about 600 students. We have other structures such as the hospital center or the youth center. You should know that there are 5 kosher restaurants in Casablanca and 5 caterers who can cater to events with as many as 1,000 people. These services are provided by Moroccan Jews. By way of comparison: in Strasbourg where there are 120,000 Jews, there are not as many kosher restaurants, and in Istanbul where there are 30,000 Jews there are no kosher restaurants.
Today Morocco: What are the specificities of Moroccan Judaism?
Serge Berdugo: First Moroccan Judaism is the fusion between two Judaisms: the "Tochavim,” who are "natives" and are of Amazigh origin and have settled in Morocco for at least 2,500 years, and the "Megorashim,” who were expelled from Spain in 1492. It took centuries for these two types of Judaism to form into one. The Megorashim are present in cities of Tangier, Tetouan, Rabat, Meknes, Fez and Marrakech.
Today Morocco: Tell us a bit about the generation of Moroccan Jews in the diaspora? What relationship do they have with Morocco?
Serge Berdugo: This is an absolutely incredible phenomenon. Moroccan Jews who left the country even ones who are three, four, or five generations removed have a strong connection and sense strong sense of belonging to Morocco. Between 1967 and 1977, Moroccan Jews around the world sought to increase contacts with Morocco. Morocco reached out to them and they returned. Each year, 50,000 Moroccan Jews come to visit the country. At Easter, which happens soon, we will have 22 hotels in all the cities of the Kingdom which will be entirely reserved for Moroccan Jews for 10 days. It has become a habit now that Moroccan Jews come to spend Easter here. They also come to marry in Morocco.
Today Morocco: You have been minister of tourism. What do you think should be done to promote Moroccan Jewish heritage?
Serge Berdugo: One of the things that makes Morocco so unique is it has a very rich heritage., which is much more important than we originally thought. This heritage is important for the Jewish community, for Morocco, for World Jewry and for humanity itself. While in other countries, sites connected to Jewish heritage have been pillaged and destroyed, in Morocco, for the past 20 years we have been concerned with preserving the Moroccan Jewish heritage as an integral part of our country and our nation. Currently, we are in a phase of preservation and maintenance of this heritage with the help of His Majesty King Mohammed VI and the government who has made it a priority. We are not alone in our quest to preserve this heritage.