Copyright 2003 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.  
Hamilton Spectator (Ontario, Canada)

May 21, 2003 Wednesday Final Edition


LENGTH: 537 words

HEADLINE: Moroccan Jews: A way of life is dying

SOURCE: The Los Angeles Times

BYLINE: Tracy Wilkinson


Michel Meyer Edery, a Jew who has lived his entire life here, got many phone calls after suicide bombers launched deadly attacks across his city and at the Jewish community centre he frequents.

His brothers in Israel and France called to tell him it was high time to leave
Morocco. Edery's many Moroccan friends, Muslims, called to make sure he was safe and tell him how appalled they were.

"I gave him a big kiss when I saw him again and saw that he was OK," said Mohammed Ouhane, a Muslim who has been Edery's friend since the two middle-aged men were teens. They surveyed damage at the community centre where blood dappled the walls and broken glass and masonry covered the floors.

Morocco on the northern African coast has long prided itself as a tolerant, multicultural society where Muslims and Jews have co-existed with an ease unequalled in the Arab world.

Jews first came here two millennia ago and thrived for centuries. The population has dwindled in the last 50 years but remains a uniquely vital Jewish presence among Muslims.

But now Moroccan Jews are haunted by a sudden sense of vulnerability. The targets in Friday's bombings included a Jewish cemetery, hotel where Israeli tourists were staying and Jewish-owned restaurant, in addition to the community centre, the heart of the old Jewish Quarter.

"We have to reconsider everything," said Serge Berdugo, president of the Moroccan Jewish Community. "Not just Jews but all Moroccans. Our mistake was to think we were immune."

Moroccan Jews numbered 290,000 in the early 1950s, said Berdugo. Today there are fewer than 5,000. Most are in Casablanca. At today's rate of attrition, there is real concern the community will die out in the next generation.

Some Jews are convinced the synchronized string of bombings, which authorities blame on radical Islamists, was aimed specifically at Jews. Others think the goal was to destroy the secular way of life and moderate government under King Mohammed VI.

"We are starting to panic a little," Edery said. "The government will tell us that we can open up our clubs and they will give us security, but it will never be completely peaceful again. There is fear."

Edery, 41, has decided to leave. It's a decision he says he took before the attacks and it has more to do with economic opportunity and the future of his children than fears about security.

His six brothers and sisters have already left. His apartment building on Rue Galilee was inhabited by 15 Jewish families 10 years ago. Today, only five Jewish families remain.

"The Jewish community here is disintegrating," he said. "I've lived my life, I'm fine and not worried about myself. But I have to give my kids a platform where they won't suffer."

Edery will move his family to Israel, where he will have an apartment, job, some cash and be taught the language.

About 600,000 Moroccan Jews live in Israel, Berdugo said, having taken with them their mystical Judaism and colorful foods, dress and customs.

Unlike immigrants to Israel from other Muslim countries, Moroccan Jews readily return to
Morocco for vacations.

Edery and other Moroccan Jews say they have never felt inhibited in the practice of their faith.