African Island's Lost Jewish Heritage

Morocco King Funds Spruce-Up of Cape Verde Cemetery

Strange Companions: Sephardic rabbi and a Moroccan diplomat rededicate Jewish graves in the African island of Cape Verde, where many Portuguese Jews once lived.
jta
Strange Companions: Sephardic rabbi and a Moroccan diplomat rededicate Jewish graves in the African island of Cape Verde, where many Portuguese Jews once lived.

By JTA

Published May 14, 2013.
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Over time the families totally assimilated, though their Creole-speaking, Christian descendants include some of Cape Verde’s most prominent businessmen and politicians, including the country’s first democratically elected prime minister, Carlos Alberto Wahnon de Carvalho Veiga.

Unlike many Arab countries with once sizable Jewish communities, Morocco has taken wide-ranging steps to preserve its Jewish history. The Casablanca Jewish museum was restored, the small but colorful 17th century synagogue in Fez was renovated, and dozens of former Jewish schools and more than 100 synagogues were rehabilitated with funding from the crown.

In 2011, in a move that Azoulay calls unprecedented in the modern Middle East, the Moroccan constitution was changed to note that the country has been “nourished and enriched … [by] Hebraic influences,” among others. The Moroccan parliament adopted the new language along with amendments that transferred some powers from the king to elected parties.

“I am not trying to paint a one-sided rosy picture. There are some difficult and maybe black pages in the book of Moroccan Jewry,” Azoulay told JTA. “But there are many, many more beautiful chapters.”

The king’s restoration activity already has brought benefits in the form of increased Jewish tourism. More than 19,000 Israelis entered Morocco in 2010, a 42 percent leap from the previous year, according to Israel’s Tourism Ministry. The World Federation of Moroccan Jewry says the kingdom receives another 30,000 non-Israeli Jews annually.

Among them was Joel Rubinfeld, the Brussels-based co-chair of the European Jewish Parliament, who spent 12 days in Morocco in March meeting with government officials and visiting his mother’s hometown. Rubinfeld believes the government’s intention to honor the country’s Jewish past is sincere, but he said other considerations are at work as well.

“There may certainly be pragmatic incentives: attracting tourism and investments down the line,” Rubinfeld said. “For some, it is a political calculation to improve Morocco’s international standing.”


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