OPINION: A virtual tour of the Museum of Moroccan Judaism

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OPINION: A virtual tour of the Museum of Moroccan Judaism

Businessman Gilles Berdugo, who is an active member of Morocco's Jewish community, explores its ancient traditions and peaceful coexistence

Gilles Berdugo
Moroccan Jewish Museum Hall by Gilles Berdugo
Moroccan Jewish Museum Hall by Gilles Berdugo

Founded in 1997, the Museum of Moroccan Judaism in Casablanca is one of the most popular destinations for Jewish and non-Jewish tourists, students, and researchers alike. It is the only museum dedicated to Judaism in the Arab world, a testament to the peaceful coexistence between Jews and Muslims in Morocco.

Jews from Morocco have a history that goes back 2000 years and a culture that is rich and vivid, so that even those who no longer live there still feel a deep connection to the country. Today, most Jews of Moroccan descent live in Israel, the United States, and Canada. There are only about 3000 Jews still in the country, and most of them reside in Casablanca. But though many no longer live in Morocco, about 50,000 come every year to visit and reconnect with their roots. Such is the strength of Moroccan Jewish culture, which the Museum of Moroccan Judaism both preserves and celebrates.

The museum was established in 1995 by Simon Levy, founder of the Foundation for the Preservation of Moroccan Jewish Culture, and it opened its doors in 1997. It was built in an old structure that dates back to 1948 when it was used as an orphanage for Jewish children. The museum spans 700 square meters and includes a large multipurpose room, three exhibition rooms, and two rooms that have been turned into recreated synagogues.

Gilles Bergudo

The museum is constantly receiving donations and is actively on the lookout for items that can enhance its collections. In 2019, the French-Moroccan opera singer, David Serero, gifted a large portion of his Moroccan Jewish art collection to the museum, the largest donation of Judaica ever made to a Moroccan museum.

The director of the museum is Ms. ZhorRehihil, a Muslim woman with a PhD in Jewish Studies, and yet another example of the peaceful coexistence of two nations and religions.

Tissus traditionnels du Musée du Judaïsme Marocain – Gilles Berdugo

When you walk into the museum, it’s as if you are transported to another age and time. Moroccan culture is special in so many ways, vastly different from the culture of European Jews, and the museum reflects that. In the multipurpose room, you can see stunning Moroccan Jewish art, including paintings, photographs, and sculptures. The room also hosts temporary exhibitions. It currently features photos of restored synagogues in Morocco from 1997 until today.

When you have finished looking at the rich, historical art, you can meander into three other rooms that contain exhibits of religious and family life, including household tools, traditional Moroccan garb, manuscripts, jewelry, and more. Finally, you can explore two additional rooms that have been transformed into traditional Moroccan synagogues. These include Torah scrolls,Megillot, objects for bar mitzvah ceremonies, Hanukkah lamps, and more. After you have taken it all in, you can visit the museum’s libraries that include documents, videos, and photos.

Moroccan Jewish Museum Entrance by Gilles Berdugo

Moroccan Jewish history is powerful and deep-rooted, and there is still a vibrant Jewish community in Casablanca today. At the peak of Moroccan Jewry in the early 1930s, the population reached between 250,000 and 300,000. Today, there are about 3000 Jews altogether. But though the number has dwindled, the culture is still very much alive. Hopefully, soon, when life returns to normal again you will be able to finish a real tour of the museum, step outside and visit any number of kosher restaurants and synagogues. You will see that while there is a strong history to learn about and imbibe, the current Jewish community is very much active, colorful and embracing.

  • Gilles Berdugo is an international businessman. He is also an angel investor, and an active member of the Moroccan Jewish community.

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