Thursday, February 14, 2013

Fez Celebrates Synagogue Restoration

The two-year long restoration project of the 17th century Slat Alfassiyine synagogue in Fez is now complete and yesterday the Prime Minister was in Fez to attend the opening.

The public in the Ville Nouvelle may have wondered at the traffic delays and the increased security, but few had any idea that the large motorcade that swept through the city was on its way to the Mellah, the Jewish Quarter. In the motorcade were not only the Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, but also Serge Berdugo, a Jewish former minister in the Moroccan government and the present Speaker of the German Parliament, Norbert Lambert.

Morocco Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane (right), Hamid Chabat Mayor of Fez and Secretary General of  Istiqlal Party  (left) (photo AFP)

The bringing together of an Islamist Prime Minister and a German Parliamentarian was just one sign of how importantly the synagogue reopening is seen. Morocco's King Mohammed was unable to attend, but in a message read by Prime Minister Benkirane he hailed the country's "spiritual wealth and diversity" of Morocco. "The secular traditions of Moroccan civilization drew their essence from the fact that Moroccans are deeply ingrained with the values of coexistence, tolerance and harmony between the different components of the nation," the king said. He went on to call for the renovation of all Jewish places of worship.

What is important to note is that the new constitution adopted in 2011 against the background of the Arab Spring, recognised Morocco's Jewish heritage as part of Morocco's national identity.

Norbert Lambert, was present representing Germany because the country donated 160,000 Euro to the restoration project

The ceremony was held in the Medina of Fez, a UNESCO world heritage site, and was attended by more than two hundred guests. Morocco historically had a vibrant Jewish population and 1,200 of the faith's pious ancestors are buried in cemeteries across the country, and ae now regarded as places of pilgrimage by the 50,000 or more Jewish visitors each year. Although Morocco which was home to a community of almost 250,000 in the first half of the 20th century, the total number of Jews in Morocco is now estimated to number less than 3,000.

Jewish families in Fez circa 1900

In 1900, Fez, then the imperial capital, had 10,000 Jews out of a population of 100,000 and 20 synagogues, according to Simon Levy, a specialist on Judaism in Morocco.

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