Muslims and Jews of Tétouan. Testimonials
Nathalie Galesne - 25/02/2014
When does the presence of Jews in Morocco date back to?
The presence of Jews in Morocco varies depending on the city or region. In some areas it dates back to thousands of years ago but in other cases a few centuries ago. For example, the Jews of Tétouan arrived with the Andalusian Arabs when they rebuilt the Medina in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. They helped spread the Andalusian culture in the territory. They have preserved the Andalusian traditions and documents in Tétouan over the centuries. The Medina has been called "the white dove", but also "the little Jerusalem". The Jewish cemetery of Tétouan is located in front of the Muslim cemetery. The Jewish presence in Morocco has gone through a huge continuity through the ages.
Jews settled in cities such as Tétouan, Fez, Tangier, Chauen, Asilah, Rabat, Marrakech, Essaouira, but also in rural areas, such as Rif.
Did the Jews abandon Morocco en masse at a certain time, like in Algeria during the independence?
The Jews began to leave Morocco in the sixties to move elsewhere, or look for better opportunities in France, Spain, Canada, Venezuela etc or to settle in Israel because the Zionist propaganda was very strong starting from the sixties.
Morocco is considered one of the few Arab countries that recognizes the importance of Jewish culture in its identity. What does this mean in practice?
There are Moroccan Muslims and Moroccan Jews. The citizens of these two faiths are both considered Moroccans and also they consider themselves Moroccans in all respects. And they have a long history of living together. In the difficult moments of history, the sultans of Morocco have protected the Jews, as in the case of King Mohammad V during the Vichy government, when Morocco was a French protectorate. Hassan II and his son, the current king, have not changed their position against them. The rights to religious practice and education of the Jews make part of the Moroccan constitution. The Jews have their own schools, their synagogues etc, and many have kept their Moroccan traditions also in Israel: music, cuisine and customs… And the Jews of Morocco are loyal to the king. Some have held important positions such as André Azoulay, economic advisor to King Hassan II and Mohammed VI, others have held ministerial posts. Most of the Jews of Morocco speak Moroccan Arabic dialect.
Do you have personal memories of the city when the Jewish and the Muslim communities co-existed and shared the same public space?
Yes, I had two uncles who were great traders. They had major partners such as Mr. Serfaty, Benatar and Hayoune. They often received them in their office and invited them to eat at their home. My cousins cousin studied at the Israeli Alliance of Tétouan. Some major stores in the city such as jewelry, fashion or quality shoes stores belonged to Jews. Jewish women have also produced traditional clothes and had relations with Muslim women that invited them to parties. The Jews were present in all economic and social activities and lived in the biggest Jewish quarter of Morocco.
What about the Jewish community of Tétouan today? It is much diminished, like that of Tangier?
The community of Tétouan is more diminished than that of Tangier. Now there are only about a dozen Jews in the city. The representative of the Jewish community of Tétouan, Mr. Momo Hayoune, is far from the spiritual and social power that the representatives of this community used to have in the past. Some rabbis, before ,had a great social prestige, not only among the Jewish community, but also among the Spaniards and the Muslims .
Which countries did the Jewish community of Tétouan and Morocco move to, still maintaining relations with the city?
There are many Jews of Tétouan who moved to Madrid and other cities in Europe, Canada and Latin America. Today, many of them visit Tétouan with great nostalgia. There are also Jews of Moroccan origin who come from Israel every year to visit the tomb of a saint, which is located in the Jewish cemetery of Tétouan. For example, Rabbi Bengualid is highly respected and his home-synagogue in Mellah is a museum run by the Moroccan Jewish community. Also some Jews of Cetua visit Tetuan, since the distance between the two cities is only 40 kilometers. I think that the Jews of Tétouan resemble a lot to their fellow Muslims. Many Muslims have also migrated from the city, which caused the radical transformation of the social structure of our city after the independence.
Was Tétouan, like Tangier, a cosmopolitan city?
Tangier was a cosmopolitan city because of its international status. This is a unique case in Morocco. Tétouan has always been closely linked to Spain, not only because of its origins and its links with Andalusia, but also because of the occupation by the Spanish army in 1860 and its role as the capital of the Spanish protectorate in northern Morocco and the Sahara from 1912 to 1956 . The Spanish community was very important. Located 40 km from Ceuta, Tétouan is still home to a Spanish consulate, three Spanish schools, the Instituto Cervantes, a Spanish hospital, a wide commercial network with Ceuta, Spanish companies , and several Spanish television channels and radio stations. The Spanish people of Ceuta often frequent our city and our region. In the city, Spanish is spoken in the street and then the locals' have a great passion for Spanish football, especially the Barca and Real Madrid. The difference between Tétouan and Tangier is that unlike Tangier, in Tétouan the number of Spaniards is higher than any other European nationalities.
Do you yearn the era in which Jews and Muslims lived together in the cosmopolitan past?
We can not go back. The past is the past. That era was nice, but now we are in another period. However, it must be said that the change of Tétouan is not limited to relations between Muslims and Jews. The city has changed dramatically at all levels: social, cultural, economic and artistic . Now it is cosmopolitan thanks to its strategic location, but in a different way. We must therefore look to the future.
Translated from Italian by Övgü Pınar