Jewish Maghrib Jukebox

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Brill to Release Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World

Went to this event last night. The Encyclopedia is 5 volumes and has great editors (Norman Stillman and Daniel Schroeter among them). Here is a link to the Brill page for the Encyclopedia. It sounds like there are a lot of great Morocco related articles (synagogue architecture, music, small villages in the south). Schroeter mentioned an article on Ighil N'Oro which got at least a few folks in the audience excited. Brill is still working on finishing the index BUT the entire Encyclopedia will be available online at the New York Public Library through July 1, 2010.

Benchimol Hospital Update

Ynet reprinted the following and I think it gives a good overview. I wonder why there isn't the same concern for much older structures in Morocco that have either been converted to other uses or are falling into disrepair.

Jewish hospital in Tangiers torn down

Moroccan Jewish communities around the world outraged after ancient structure, which has been abandoned for 10 years, demolished before Passover, blame president of Tangiers Jewish community for current troubles, ask him to either take steps to prevent further actions or step down
Elad Benari

Moroccan Jewish communities around the world are upset after the Jewish hospital in Tangiers was torn down.

According to reports, the Benchimol Hospital in Tangiers which has been standing for more than 110 years was torn down Friday night before Passover at 2 am. “There is a law in Morocco that you cannot enter any private property between 10 pm and 6 am,” explained a concerned member of the Moroccan Jewish community in Toronto. “There was no warning about it.”

The community is now concerned that further action against Jewish institutions may be taken by the authorities in Morocco and wishes to make the public aware of the situation. Although the Tangiers Jewish community now only consists of about 40 Jews (at its peak there were 22,000 Jews in the community), there are still important Jewish landmarks in the area, such as a Jewish nursing home and two cemeteries.

“The new cemetery which is in the outskirts of Tangiers is on the highway going to Rabat. At one point it was really let gone. You could hardly go inside the cemetery because there were snakes; there were bushes in between the tombs,” said the concerned individual. “It was not maintained at all. Last year we sent e-mails and finally they got their act together and they cleaned it completely, and I do have to admit that they did a very good job. But it took years of pounding and pounding until they did it.”

The second Jewish cemetery in Tangiers is commonly known as the old cemetery, and was in operation already in the 1910s. There are many righteous individuals buried there, but it has not been maintained for the last 60-70 years. As a member of the local Moroccan Jewish community explained, the cemetery faces the port of Tangiers and the Moroccan authorities have their eyes on it. The community fears that if nothing is done, the authorities will take over that property and remove all the corpses.

Members of the Moroccan Jewish community, both in Canada and around the world, have begun to send e-mails to the president of the Tangiers Jewish community, whom they say is responsible for the current troubles, asking him to either take steps to prevent further actions or step down. “The Jewish community in Tangiers is run by Mr. Azancot. He’s the president,” explained one member of the Moroccan Jewish community in Toronto. “He was elected many years ago when the Jewish community was numerous. He’s hardly ever in Tangiers and doesn’t run things properly.”

'Main concern is Jewish cemetery'

According to the sources in the community, Azancot was given a year’s notice by the Moroccan authorities to fix up the hospital, which has been abandoned for about 10 years. The hospital has given care to Jews, Christians, and Muslims over the years. The members of the community explained that the problem arose when the president of the Jewish community went to the authorities with a plan to tear down the hospital and build an apartment building on that property. This opened up “a Pandora’s Box” as they put it, since the Moroccan authorities said that obviously, if the Jews want to build something on that property, that means they do not care about the building and it can be torn down.

They added that Azancot had no authority to decide to tear down the building since the Jewish community does not own the land. The land is owned by the Benchimol family and the deed has been deposited in the French Consulate. This means that only the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France has a say on the fate of that building.

Besides bringing attention to Jewish communities worldwide, letters have been sent to Azancot by many Moroccan Jewish around the world. So far, said the sources, the e-mails have gone unanswered. Representatives of the Jewish communities in Madrid, Montreal, and Toronto have already been in contact with Azancot. Now, contact is also being made with the Canadian ambassador of Morocco.

A letter written by one of the communities here in Canada to the Moroccan ambassador in Canada said that “Morocco represents the paragon of coexistence in the Arab world. At a time when we are targeting a Jewish-Muslim reconciliation, measures such as those taken in anger in Tangiers leave us puzzled.” The letter urges the ambassador to convey the Jews’ dismay to the Moroccan authorities.

“The hospital is done and there’s nothing we can do to reconstruct the building. Our main concern is the Jewish cemetery. They can go anytime and take over. There’s a lot of tzadikim in that cemetery and that is our major concern,” said the community members. “The representative of the Jewish community has been warned already: Either do something or step down. Mr. Bardugo, who is the secretary of the entire Jewish community in Morocco, has advised him the same but unfortunately the Jewish community in Tangier does not answer to the general communities of Morocco. It’s a separate entity and has always been that way so nobody can do anything against that.”

Reprinted with permission from Shalom Life

The Ynet article uses a photo totally unrelated to the article (of the Benarrosh Synagogue) which is of course part of a bigger problem of a lack of photo documentation of sites throughout Morocco.

Diarna has provided some good photo documentation of the site and a personal touch. Read about it here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Morocco's Oldest Jewish Hospital Demolished - Benchimol Hospital, Tangier

Article from Point of No Return:

Morocco lost one of its historic landmarks when the oldest hospital in the land, the Jewish Benchimol hospital in Tangiers, was rased overnight on 2 April. And the Jewish cemetery might be next.

Why did the demolition squads choose the dead of night and the middle of the festival of Passover to do the deed? And who ordered them in? The Moroccan newspaper Liberation, lamenting the destruction of Morocco's heritage, blames not just the local municipality for this act of historic vandalism, but the local Jewish community, which ostensibly 'sold' the pre-colonial, 110-year-old hospital in order to raise money for its poor - in spite of objections from the Fondation du Patrimoine Culturel Judeo-Marocain, whose aim is to safeguard Morocco's Jewish heritage. (Another report, however, says that the community did not own the site, which was the property of the Benchimol family, French nationals. Only the French consulate would have been able to give approval for the hospital to be torn down.)

Historian Ralph Toledano prefers to speculate that a rogue Wali is to blame, who acted without the knowledge and consent of the king. The deed was done while the few members of the tiny Jewish community were away.

"It is not just that this was a Jewish building which upsets me. All destruction of historic heritage is an irredeemable loss. A heritage cannot be reconstituted," Toledano writes. He admits that he had heard rumours that the local authorities had been wanting to demolish the building for some time. The (bizarre) aim was to turn the site into a public park, adjoining the ancient palace of Sultan Moulay Hafid. "One must never despise rumours, they often become fact."

Hence must be taken seriously a rumour that the municipality has next set its sights on the Jewish cemetery of dar el San’a, on rue du Portugal, opposite Bab America. The cemetery was an 18th century concession negotiated between the Sherifian king's representative and the Jewish community on the site of an old Portuguese fort.

The site measures more than a hectare, and commands a beautiful view over the straits. Mr Toledano is horrified at the thought that a site where venerable rabbis and community dignitaries are buried might be bulldozed. The 15th century Castille cemetery in Tetuan has a similarly breathtaking view.

Article in Liberation Magazine:

Interesting back and forth on the demolition and other demolitions/destruction/vandalism:,171291,171342
(Pay attention to situation of cemetery at Tinghrir)

More updates soon.