Explore the jewish history of Morocco

Morocco has a rich ancient history which is tightly woven in with Jewish history. Defenders of the Jewish people during World War II, the strong relationships between Sultans, Kings and Jewish leaders go right back to more than 2000 years ago.

The Jewish people of North Africa have lived through the eras of the Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines and Arabs. Today as you explore the Berber Villages and Towns of Morocco and larger Imperial cities. When you speak with locals in towns across Morocco that the impact of Jewish culture in the country really comes to life, you will hear many magical stories of great innovators, sages and local Saints.

Today the Jewish diaspora from far and wide come back to the place of many of their ancestors to discover the rich culture and history while enjoying an immersive, and enjoyable holiday or vacation.

Epic hosts quite a few visitors with an interest in Jewish history and culture, offering specialist guides, many of whom also speak Hebrew and can bring to life the history and stories of the past as you wonder around the synagogues, cemeteries, monuments, galleries and communal institutions of the Jewish community.

The cities of Marrakesh, Meknes, Fez, Casablanca, and Rabat show strong evidence of the close relations between Sultans and the Jewish communities. While 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 has picturesque and historical mellahs (Jewish medina locations) too, although not regularly featuring on requested itineraries so far.

What can a typical Moroccan Journey, with a Jewish cultural element baked in, look like for travellers?

To begin…a soft landing into the Atlas Mountains

One of the stand-out features of Morocco is the dramatic and diverse landscapes. Visitors can enjoy a private transfer from Marrakech to the magical Atlas Mountains for a bit of post travel rejuvenation and leg stretching. Get a sense of the area, with it’s striking peaks, lush cultivated valleys and traditional villages that preserve centuries old ways of life. Over the next day or two explore and hike with a guide visiting Berber families and lunching in villages with panoramic views of the mountains and villages below.

The Jewish culture of Marrakech

Once restored it’s time to move to Marrakech, the capital of the Moroccan South a former desert trading station, with hues of red, ochre and pink, it is often called the ‘Rose City’. You can stay in a traditional ornate Riad in the Jewish Mellah district where historic communities thrived, and take a walking tour with our knowledgeable Hebrew speaking guide. Discover hidden synagogues, meander through narrow alleys adorned with bustling markets. Visit museums, galleries and antique shops which house Jewish artifacts and vintage dress items, view art depicting the costumes and lives of Jewish people.

Marvel at the architectural splendor of landmarks like the Lazama Synagogue. Gain profound insights into the impact Jewish culture and traditions have had on the history of Marrakech.

Taste the unique Jewish food traditions of Morocco with stews prepared for Shabbat called ‘Skhina’ or Dafina’ cooked on low heat from Friday until Saturday noon, You can try your hand at cooking a typical recipe for ‘Skhina’ amongst others at Maison Arabe.

Marrakesh is the home of many tsadikim and a lot of veneration is shown to their holy tombs; like Rabbi Hananiah Ha Cohen ,Pinhas Ha Cohen,Shlomo Ben Tamshut ,Azoulay Cohen  among many others

There are many other general points of interest in Marrakech; the YSL gardens, Badi Palace, renovated Koranic School, and there are many chances to relax for a while by luxurious pools or do a bit of shopping and take in the air with a coffee and ‘Sfenge’ (Moroccan doughnut).

The Journey to Fes

The route to Fes takes you past Casablanca which has its own Jewish points of interest and is now a vibrant commercial centre. There is a Museum of Moroccan Judaism there, and Temple Beth-El. Casablanca remains nowadays the most important Jewish centre in Morocco, with 12 active synagogue, 6 kosher butchers ,4 Jewish schools; including a religious school ( the Neve Shalom School)

Another great stop is in Moulay Idriss, known for its picturesque streets and panoramic views of the nearby ruins of Volubilis.  Enjoy great views and a lunch at the private ‘Scorpion House’ by Epic arrangement.

Exploring Fes

The spiritual and intellectual heart of Morocco, Fes is home to the world’s oldest university the University Al-Karouine.

Here you can discover the rich Jewish heritage of the city and visit renowned synagogues like Ibn Dannan a 17th century landmark, and El Fassiyeen and the ancient jewish cemetery with revered tombs of Jewish saints. Visit a Jewish home or meet with a local Rabbi.

The Jewish quarter of Fes boasts 40 synagogues and one of the largest Jewish cemeteries with where hundreds of Rabbis and famous tsadikim such as Rabbi Yehouda BenAttar and the Martyr Lalla Solica are lain to rest.

Tangier and the North

Tangier has much to offer with a slightly cooler climate, renovated port, old town and literary cafes. There is much to see in this historic city some call ‘the bride of the north’.

The first Jews migrated to Tangier (once known as Tanja or Tingus) after the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem and settled among the Berbers. The Jews of Tangier were later met by a second wave of migration from the Jews living in the Iberian Peninsula during the 1492 Alhambra Decree.

Visit Moshe Nahon Synagogue. This last remaining operating synagogue in Tangier is monumental and ranks amongst the most beautiful synagogues in Morocco. Built in the 1870’s the Nahon Synagogue remained as a working place for Jewish prayer until it fell into despair in the lat 20th Century. Then in 1994 it was renovated revealing intricately covered carvings that are illuminated by magical hanging synagogue lamps and Jewish artifacts. At one time there were over 20 synagogues in Tangier.

There is plenty more to do in Tangier, explore the café and literary scene made famous by the ‘Beat Generation’, wonder around the Grand and Petit Socco markets and have a bite or catch a film at the famous Cinema Rif. Enjoy sumptuous surroundings, old film star photos and great food and cocktails as bar El Morocco, or do a spot of shopping at Las Chicas a local concept store.

It’s very easy to build a plan that takes in the best of Morocco while dropping into the history and culture of the Jewish people in the key Imperial cities of Morocco.

For more information on carefully curated Jewish tours of Morocco contact info@epic.travel