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Israeli and Moroccan researchers excavate remnants of Jewish life in Morocco

Outside of a ruined synagogue in Tamanart, Morocco. (Photo: Orit Ouaknine-Yekutieli)

Israeli researchers and their Moroccan counterparts are investigating the remnants of Jewish life in Morocco, following the normalization of Israel-Moroccan diplomatic ties in 2020.

In the same year, the two nations jointly uncovered an abandoned mud-brick synagogue in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco in the Sahara desert.

“This research is a new opportunity which is sitting at the intersection of changes in the way [Israelis] are thinking about Jews from Morocco, the agreement with Israel, and the relationship between Jews and Morocco itself,” said Dr. Orit Ouaknine-Yekutieli, a history scholar from Israel’s Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

Together with her colleague, Prof. Yuval Yekutieli, and other Moroccan experts, they succeeded in uncovering the geniza, a repository for historically and religiously important documents and objects.

Yuval Yekutieli and Mabrouk Saghir excavating on site in Morocco. (Photo: Orit Ouaknine-Yekutieli)

While praising the historical Arab-Israeli Abraham Accords, Ouaknine-Yekutieli said she enjoyed close cooperation with her Moroccan colleagues long before the countries decided to formalize their diplomatic ties.

“Our research is taking advantage of this unique intersection of opportunities, but it’s also the result of years of close cooperation with friends in Morocco that was less formal until now,” she said.

Up until the 1950s, Morocco was home to a large Jewish minority numbering approximately 300,000 people. However, most Moroccan Jews eventually moved to the Jewish state or to Western countries and, as a result, only a tiny remnant of Jews currently live in Morocco.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are of Moroccan descent. Together, with other Jews of Moroccan background, these Israelis constitute a natural bridge between Morocco and the Jewish nation both in Israel and throughout the diaspora.

Ouaknine-Yekutieli, who is of Moroccan descent, credited righteous Jews for preserving the sacred documents and objects in Morocco.

“As Moroccans, we say it was the many tzaddikim [righteous Jews] and maraboutim [Islamic holy men] that are in this place that took care of the geniza and guarded our project,” she said.

Read more: MOROCCO

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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