The Marketplace in Marrakesh
This article appeared on Adi Schwartz’s blog in Hebrew a few months ago – but is still extremely relevant. A whole generation of Jews from Morocco hid from their children the real reasons why they came to Israel, Adi Schwartz has found. Thanks to Orna for her translation from Hebrew. (With thanks: Yoel )
In recent years I have dealt with the circumstances in
which the Jews came from Arab countries left. In my talks I am asked: why do Jews
from Arab countries do not tell of the experiences that befell them?
Everyone knows about the treatment of the Jews in Europe,
but hardly anything about the situation of Jews in Arab countries. The questions is
mainly about the Moroccan Jews, as according to widespread belief, their
situation was excellent and the reason for their immigration was for “Zionist
This week, Sivan Vizman, a law student at Kiriat Ono’s
academic college, sent me her thesis that deals with the legal status of
the Arab countries’ Jews. It turns out that even she, whose grandfather is a Moroccan
Jew, did not know anything about the true circumstances that brought him to
Israel and about the treatment he and his family had to face. With her
permission I am quoting from the introduction to her work:
“One evening, while sitting with my best friend Ziad Abu
Aloha, our conversation drifted to his longing for his family. Ziad, a
descendant of Palestinian refugees from East Jerusalem, lamented about the status
of refugees and the right of return – in his opinion is a pre-requisite for
the peace process. He wished to see an end to rising unemployment and overcrowding in
refugee camps. He spoke of wrongs,
injustice and a feeling of alienation by the Palestinians towards the State of
I felt empathy for his pain and asked him if he knew that
similar feelings many Jews originally from Arab Countries. Ziad was stunned and asked me to tell him about it. I
told him what I heard about a Moroccan Jew and the tribulations that he and many
others suffered when they were forced to leave their land and immigrate to the newly created
country – Israel.
I told him Mordechai’s story.
Mordechai owned a large and prosperous factory in
Marrakesh, Morocco; he had a large house and good social and economic status
that gave him great influence in his community. After the establishment of the
state of Israel, many Moroccan Jews suffered from harassment by the Arab
neighbours, including burning synagogues, homes, shops and factories –
including his own. Jewish children were beaten in the street while walking in
the streets during curfew, Jewish girls suffered abuse.
The case that shocked the family and caused them to leave
Marrakesh, concerned the eldest daughter Rachel. She was ill with a rare disease: she was
refused medical treatment because she was Jewish. Mordechai decided to abandon
his motherland and immigrate to Israel; he was not allowed to take any money
with him. He left his house, factory and comfortable life and arrived in Israel
penniless. Rachel, his eldest daughter eventually became blind because she did not
receive the necessary medical treatment in time.
Mordechai told his children and grandchildren who were
born in Israel that his motive was “Zionist”. He never shared the story of his
Mordechai was my grandfather”.
Sivan’s work is academic and only the introduction includes
a personal reference. Sivan told me that what surprised her most was
the discovery that her family left Morocco because of unbearable harassment.
knew that my grandfather was a wealthy man before I started this work but I
never knew that he left as a result of pogroms in Morocco. I naively thought
that he came to Israel out of Zionist motivation only. His brothers always told us
about his luxury apartment in Marrakesh, compared to the great poverty in which he
lived since coming to Israel. I did not know that my aunt Rachel was blinded
because she did not receive medical treatment. He never complained as he very
Zionist and patriotic; he never accepted charity and claimed the best
thing he had ever done was going to live in Israel. Only when I started
researching the topic, I found out that although they had a beautiful apartment
with servants, the servants turned from friends to foes overnight. I learnt
that Molotov cocktails were thrown at the apartment and that his eldest children
were picked on and harassed.
Many Israelis are not aware as to the real reasons that
brought their parents and grandparents to Israel; they don’t know what the Jews’
lives were really like – just as in Europe. A whole history appears to have been
wiped out and erased.
This lack of knowledge creates a difficulty in articulating
the need for a country for Jews, designed primarily to enable them to live for
the first time without prejudice and fear of their
surroundings. The aim has indeed been achieved.
Maybe it is a good idea for Israelis to check with
their parents and grandparents the real reasons that brought them to