In anticipation of our tours of Morocco’s imperial cities, the Jewish Heritage Travel staff has prepared a cultural primer with photography, biography, travel writing, film, and more. Familiarize yourself with “the kingdom where the sun sets,” including its rich Jewish history, before seeing the souks and meandering in the medinas, the museums, and the Fez “Mellah.”
Jews Under Moroccan Skies: Two Thousand Years of Jewish Life
by Raphael Elmaleh and George Ricketts
Anyone with plans to visit the North African nation can start with this accessible examination of two millennia of Moroccan Jewish history. “[This book] shows the heritage of tolerance and coexistence between Jews and Muslims … and delivers a message of hope in a world of hatred and exclusion,” writes Serge Berdugo, former Moroccan minister of tourism and president of the World Assembly of Moroccan Jewry. With interviews, extensive fieldwork, and thorough research at the Jewish Museum in Casablanca, authors Elmaleh and Ricketts have documented a mostly unwritten culture. An important historical overview to connect travelers to the country’s former Jewish residents, which also acts as a practical guidebook.
Two Arabs, a Berber, and a Jew: Entangled Lives in Morocco
by Lawrence Rosen
While tracing the lives of four very different Moroccan men, anthropologist Lawrence Rosen explains how this society quickly transformed from an “underdeveloped colonial outpost” to a modern Arab country — a late 19th-century medieval monarchy to a modern postcolonial nation in a surprisingly short time. The concept took fifty years to complete; Rosen first imagined the idea while conducting fieldwork in Sefrou during the Six-Day War, a particularly tense time for Morocco’s remaining Jews. (Shimon Benizri, the book’s Jewish protagonist, is described as a kindly cloth dealer, “devoted to his family and totally at home, first in his rural community and later in town, in a country that has always had a set of relations to his people that escapes easy judgment.”) By comparing and contrasting the disparate viewpoints his friends (“extraordinary ordinary people”) hold on politics, power, tribalism, and more, Rosen creates a multilayered and innovative new mix of genres: biography as cultural history.
Majorelle: A Moroccan Oasis
by Madison Cox
Part of a series that profiled four of the world’s most beautiful gardens, this book is a colorful celebration of the botanical and artist’s landscape preserve originally developed in the 1920s by French artist Louis Majorelle, later restored by famous designer Yves St. Laurent. (Jewish Heritage Travel will visit this lush paradise as we explore Marrakech.) The slim volume contains a brief history of the region and the construction of the garden, along with over 100 color photographs by noted garden photographer de Virieu. Get an early look at the varied plant species — palm trees, olive trees, cypresses, laurels, cacti, jasmine, and so many colorful flowers — and glimpse the magnificent art and atmosphere of tranquility that awaits you.
The Voices of Marrakesh: A Record of a Visit
by Elias Canetti
The only book of travel writing by the Nobel Prize-winning author of Crowds and Power was inspired by his brief visit — just a few weeks! — to the titular Moroccan city. In her essay “Mind as Passion,” Susan Sontag described a particular focus that will speak to all seasoned travelers: “The exotic impressions of his stay in Marrakesh are unified by the quality of attentiveness to ‘voices’ that Canetti tries to summon in himself. Attentiveness is the formal subject of the Voices of Marrakesh. Encountering poverty, misery, and deformity, Canetti undertakes to hear, that is, really to pay attention to words, cries, and inarticulate sounds “on the edge of the living.” The author, born in 1905 into a Sephardi Jewish family, pays special attention to the Jewish quarter and includes some beautiful insights and passages about its community and culture. An exceptionally fine (though, as expected, slightly outdated) work of travel literature.
Goodbye Mothers (Adieu mères) and They Were Promised the Sea
For those who prefer visual entertainment, here are two films on the mass migration of Moroccan Jews to Israel. In Goodbye Mothers, two close families with different religions, one Muslim and one Jewish, find themselves at odds as the latter considers their fate, future, and safety in 1960s Morocco. (This film was inspired by the sinking of the Egoz and the 44 Jewish Moroccans who drowned while secretly immigrating to Israel in 1961 — which was illegal under Moroccan law at that time.) Those who prefer documentaries to narrative films should consider They Were Promised the Sea. This 2013 movie covers the stories of the Arab Jews who left Morocco through interviews, poetry, and recordings of Judeo-Andalusian music. Stories of loss, hope, and grief, including beautiful imagery of the former Jewish Berber villages.