Copyright 2003 British Broadcasting Corporation  
BBC Monitoring Middle East - Political
Supplied by BBC Worldwide Monitoring

May 19, 2003, Monday

LENGTH: 302 words

HEADLINE: Moroccan Jews celebrate saint festival in Essaouira

SOURCE: MAP news agency web site, Rabat, in English 19 May 03

Text of report in English by Moroccan news agency MAP web site

Essaouira, 19 May: Several Moroccan Jews travelled to the locality of Ait Bayoud, 70 km east of the Moroccan Atlantic city of Essaouira, to celebrate the festival of the Saint Rabbi Nassim Ben Nassim who is buried there.

Some visitors even came from abroad to pray at the tomb of the saint who stayed in Ait Bayoud 159 years ago with two of his companions, Rabbis Halevy and Soultan, who were also buried in what became a sanctuary and a site of pilgrimage for several Moroccan Jews.

The festival started with the "Ziara" (visit) on Thursday 15 May and closed on Sunday 18 May with prayers and rituals during which Jews from all over
Morocco meet, marking the Moroccan Jewry attachment to the land of their ancestors.

This year, the events that shook Casablanca on Friday were on every one's mind as mourning pilgrims considerably reduced the traditional festivities.

A Moroccan official delegation, led by Essaouira Governor Abdeslam Bikrat, attended some of these ceremonies Sunday. The governor reassured pilgrims that
Morocco will always remain "a country of tolerance, co-existence and peace".

We all should defend the lives of people regardless of their religion, colour and culture because Morocco was and will remain a country of cultural, religious, geographic and ethnic diversity, he insisted.

In the same vein, Chief Rabbi of the Jewish sanctuary Nassim Ben Nassim, Marc Bitton, strongly condemned the terrorist attacks perpetrated in Casablanca, stressing that the Jewish community, like all Moroccan citizens, is deeply affected by the atrocity of these ignoble acts.

"Jewish Moroccans will always defend the country that belongs to all Moroccans whether Jews or Moslems," Bitton told MAP.