Meet the Muslim woman who oversees Morocco’s Jewish legacy

Zhor Rehihil serves as the curator of the Museum of Moroccan Judaism. Among the relics she safeguards are a carefully wrapped ancient Torah scroll, ornamental brass lamps, and decades-old siddurim, or Jewish prayer books.

“This is not just Jewish history,” Rehihil said in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor. “This is all our history.” She had previously been quoted as saying that “The new constitution emphasizes both ethnic and religious pluralism in Morocco.”

That she of all people – a Muslim, and a woman to boot — has been relegated the task of overseeing these rich cultural treasures of Morocco’s Jewish population is, she said, “not surprising. This is natural.”

Moroccan Jews constitute an ancient community. Before the founding of Israel in 1948, there were about 250,000 to 350,000 Jews in the country, which gave Morocco the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world, but fewer than 2,500 or so remain today.

The museum itself sits in the Oasis neighborhood of Casablanca. Founded 23 years ago by Simon Levy, a one-time professor at the University of Rabat and the founder of the Foundation for the Preservation of Moroccan Jewish Culture, it is the only museum devoted to Judaism in the Arab world. The building in which it sits was built in 1948 as a Jewish orphanage, with as many as 160 children in residence. It was remodeled seven years ago.

The museum was rededicated by King Mohammed VI of Morocco on December 20, 2016 after it was restored. In addition to King Mohammed VI and Moroccan government officials, the re-dedication was attended by Samuel L. Kaplan, the US ambassador to Morocco, and museum President Jaques Toledano.

Other priceless artifacts of Morocco’s Jews include the bimah from the Beni-Issakhar Synagogue in Casablanca, as well as mezuzahs, and a menorah. The museum also touts a considerable collection of Berber history, according to Wikipedia, including costumes, jewelry, and Fatima pendants.

Visitors, and there aren’t many, can also observe a reconstructed jewelry-making shop built using the workbench and tools of Moroccan Jew, Saul Cohen. “One of the most notable additions, however, is the incorporation of the preamble of Morocco’s updated 2011 constitution, which cites Hebraic influences as a pillar of national unity.”

The museum, its web site points out, has a multipurpose room, intended for mounting temporary exhibitions. Exhibitions that are part of Contemporary Art, namely: the plastic arts, photography, sculpture and installations. A current exhibition is a photo exhibition on the restored synagogues in Morocco, from 1997 until today. It explains the diversity of architectural styles between the different regions of Morocco: Tangier, Tetouan, Fez, Meknes, Errachidia as well as the Berber zones, between Tiznit-Taroudant and the region of Ouarzazate.

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