The interior of a private synagogue in the new city of Casablanca.

Elderly man in the Jewish Home for the Aged, 
Courtesy of Viva (Suzy Arama)

Almost anywhere one goes in Morocco, the Jewish presence is felt, whether in Jewish cemeteries, synagogues and mellahs, or in monuments of Muslim rulers who had strong links with the Jewish community. The synagogues, cemeteries, monuments and communal institutions of Casablanca show how important the city has been to the Jewish community during the twentieth century. The imperial cities of Fez, Marrakesh, Meknes and Rabat show strong evidence of the close relations between the Sultans and the Jewish communities. The coastal cities of Sale, El Jadida, Essaouira and Agadir still have traces of the Jewish traders who made them prosperous. The northern cities of Tangier, Tetouan and the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla have many sites demonstrating the close links between Moroccan Jews and Spain during the last 500 years. The eastern Moroccan city of Oujda and the town of Debdou have picturesque and historical mellahs. In the deserts, mountains and oases of southern Morocco, there are many sites reminding visitors of the Berber Jews who once lived there.


The mellah of Casablanca is young by Moroccan standards, not much more than a century old. It assaults the senses in the evening, with a sea of women in brightly colored djellabahs carrying and selling fruit and vegetables throughout the cramped, narrow streets.  While Jews no longer live in the mellah, kosher butchers are found in the old market, next to other butchers selling horse meat. The Jewish cemetery in the mellah is open and quiet, with well-kept white stone markers in French, Hebrew and Spanish. Once a year, Casablancans celebrate a hiloula, or prayer festival, at the tomb of the Jewish saint, Eliahou.

The 4,500 Casablancan Jews live outside the mellah in the European city, where they worship in over 30 synagogues, eat in kosher restaurants, entertain themselves in community centers, and attend Jewish schools and social service centers. Beth El is the largest synagogue and an important community center, seating 500 persons. Casablanca is also the home of the Hassan II Mosque, the second largest in the world. The Jewish community contributed to the construction of this mosque, which was inaugurated in 1994. Some Jews visit annually the Muslim shrine of Sidi Belyout, Casablanca's patron saint. Many Jews of Casablanca celebrate the hiloula of the saint Yahia Lakhdar in Ben Ahmed, about an hour south of Casablanca near the town of Settat.
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