Edited by: TJVNews.com
Two Israeli airlines launched their first commercial flights between Israel and Morocco on Sunday, less than a year after the countries officially normalized relations, as was reported by the AP.
Israir’s flight departed Tel Aviv for Marrakech with around 100 Israeli tourists, the company said, hours before Israeli national carrier El Al dispatched its first direct flight to the same destination.
AP reported that Israeli Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov said the new direct flights would “help advance fruitful tourism, trade and economic cooperation and diplomatic agreements between the two countries.”
Israel and Morocco agreed to normalize relations in late 2020 as part of the U.S.-brokered “Abraham Accords.” Morocco was among four Arab nations, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
AP reported that as part of the deal, the United States agreed to recognize Morocco’s claim to the long-disputed Western Sahara region, however the Biden administration said it will review this decision. Morocco’s 1975 annexation of Western Sahara is not recognized by the United Nations.
Many Israeli Jews have lineage that traces back to Morocco, which is still home to a small Jewish community of several thousand.
Israeli news site Mako reported that Morocco’s Ministry of Tourism held a special reception at the airport for the 100 Israeli visitors, including music, dancing, and dining.
Algemeiner reported that one passenger said, “We are as excited as children. There are people who have only seen Marrakesh in pictures.” They added that they are sure a great many Israelis will be flying to Morocco, including those without family connections to the country.
Israeli retail magnate Rami Levy, one of the owners of Israir, ushered the passengers into the plane at Ben-Gurion Airport and traveled with them to Marrakesh, as was reported by the Algemeiner.
“I’m very excited. We’ve made history,” he said to Mako. “This route will be a success … it’s [just] a matter of time.”
El Al said in a statement before the departure of its first flight that the company plans to operate five flights per week between Israel and Morocco, as was reported by the AP.
“We hope that now many can know Morocco better, to experience and be excited by this special country that is deeply rooted in Israeli heritage, culture and experience,” said El Al CEO Avigal Sorek.
After the first flight arrived in Marrakech, the director of the Moroccan national tourism office, Adil Fakir, called it “a crowning moment of the important decision taken by Morocco to resume relations between the two countries.”
The head of the Israeli liaison office in Rabat, David Govrin, said it would “strengthen the existing ties between our two people.” The head of the Jewish community in the Marrakech-Safi region, Jacky Kadoch, also welcomed the development.
There have been Jews in Morocco for at least 2,000 years when some 30,000 Jews fled to North Africa following the destruction of the Second Temple. It is believed there had been Jews there even earlier too, perhaps as long ago as 2,500 years. The oldest known evidence of Jewish life in the country are two menorah shaped oil lamp from the 3rd century, found at the site of Volubilis, a once Roman city located at the southwest extremity of the Empire, today near to the city of Fez. Jewish gravestones, some in Hebrew and some in Greek, were also found, with one referring to the head of the synagogue, as was reported in a Aish.com article on the subject of the history of Jews in Morocco.
As was reported in the New York Jewish Travel Guide, Jewish culture has been interwoven throughout Morocco for centuries and offers a golden opportunity for Jewish and non-Jewish travelers alike to discover the stories of the Jewish Mellah, the vibrant Jewish community, Synagogues, Andalusian and Moorish architecture, tombs and holy places, and the only Jewish Museum in the Islamic world. “Casablanca” film references aside, Morocco is home to many Jewish heritage sites of historical prominence that are some of the most widely visited in the world. When traveling to Morocco, these fantastic places are essential highlights not to be missed and include synagogues, cemeteries, and the Mellah (old Jewish quarter), all preserved respectively in the former Jewish neighborhoods of the medinas. All Jewish heritage sites in Morocco are either UNESCO World Heritage sites or protected by the Moroccan King and government and are regularly under renovation and preservation to ensure they remain a part of Morocco’s Jewish heritage.
Jews of Moroccan descent, in Israel and around the globe, are returning to Morocco often and some maintain second homes. Jewish heritage tours are abundant and major sites of pilgrimage which are scattered around the country are visited, especially during the Hillouloth. A few of the most popular are Rabbi Yehouda Benatar (Fes), Rabbi Haim Pinto (Mogador), Rabbi Amram Ben Diwane (Ouezzan), and Rabbi Yahia Lakhdar ( Beni-Ahmed). Not only is Casablanca, the country’s commercial hub, home to the vast majority of Morocco’s Jewish population, it also houses the only Jewish museum in the Arab world. Once serving as a Jewish orphanage, the Museum of Moroccan Judaism details Jews’ 2,000-year history in the country. It’s a smaller museum, though it has some real treasures.
The Aish.com article explained that Rabbi Moses Maimonides, one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars in the Middle Ages, lived in Fez from 1159 to 1165. Originally from Cordova in Spain, he had fled with his family to escape the Almohad persecution of Jews. (Later this same persecution would see him leave Fez, eastward for Egypt) It was in Fez that Maimonides, as well as serving as working as a physician to the Sultan, wrote one of his most famous works, his Commentary on the Oral Law. The stone home where he lived, still stands.
The Museum of Moroccan Judaism
The Museum covers an area of 700 square meters and includes a large multipurpose room used for exhibitions of painting, photography, and sculpture; three other rooms, with windows containing exhibits on religious and family life (oil lamps, Torahs, Chanukah lamps, clothing, marriage contracts [ketubot], and Torah covers) and on work-life; two rooms displaying complete Moroccan synagogues; and document, video, and photo libraries.
Its director, Zhor Rehihil, a Muslim woman with a Ph.D. in Jewish studies, points out highlights of the collection: Torah scrolls, hamsas, menorahs, elaborately embroidered caftans, a carved wooden bimah. “As Muslim Moroccans, we feel we lost a part of our identity when Moroccan Jews left the country,” explains Rehihil. “We used to have a six-pointed star on our flag, like Israel. But under French rule, it was changed to five.” The rights of Jews to practice their religion and education are enshrined in the Moroccan constitution. In 2011, Morocco’s new constitution recognized “Hebraic influences” as having enriched and nourished Moroccan identity. Noting that “Morocco has made a colossal effort to preserve its Jewish heritage,” Rehihil added that this emphasis is changing the views of ordinary Moroccans, who now recognize that the Jewish story “is part of Moroccan heritage and it is up to us to preserve it for future generations.”
A visit to Jewish Casablanca also merits a stop at Synagogue Beth El, the main synagogue among one of the 30 throughout the city. Inside you will find beautiful Marc Chagall-inspired stained glass where the sunlight pours in, tinted in multicolor from the stained glass, and radiates off an enormous crystal chandelier, creating a rainbow-like effect across the entire synagogue. There are ancient Hebrew scrolls on display and gilded quotes from the Torah inscribed on the walls.