Contrasts of a Journey Through Australia and New Zealand

November 14th, 2013 by Smithsonian Journeys

692_thumbnailGeorge Losey, Professor Emeritus, University of Hawaii, received his Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography working on the behavior and ecology of the fishes of the East Pacific. His research, mostly on coral reef fishes, includes cleaning symbiosis, intraspecific aggression and learning behavior. His most recent work on ultraviolet vision and coloration in reef fishes led him to Australia’s Lizard Island Research Station on two research expeditions.

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I love the contrasts in traveling. I look forward to the contrast of my destination with my home. The destination may be inspiring, challenging or awesomely beautiful, but usually makes the return home very comfortably familiar. Our Natural Wonders of Australia and New Zealand Journey was a stark contrast with nearly every day distinct from the previous day. The Great Barrier Reef challenged some of us to snorkel far out to the coral and giant parrot fish. Others near the beach were suddenly yelling “turtle” as a green sea turtle swam between their legs. Then when I was silently admiring a giant clam, my flippers were brushed aside as a turtle passed just beneath, either oblivious to my presence or possessing a cheeky desire to startle me (successfully!).

Kuranda and the awesome beauty of the rainforest were, for me, almost belittled by the beautiful olive-backed sunbirds nesting in the middle of the food court yard with their nest hanging from a vendor’s display. They busily traveled out and back, feeding their young, despite our violation of their privacy. Then walking down into the lower market it was transformed into a familiar set of commercial activities to a holdout hippie-style community as an echo of the old days in Kuranda.

Travel to Alice Springs and Ayers Rock brought additional contrasts. I was very pleased to have a stop at the local headquarters for the Royal Flying Doctors Service. Years back they had evacuated a very sick me from Mackay to Townsville in a rather nasty storm. Thanks Mates!

On to the outback, that contrasts not only with other places but with itself. The harsh red of the ground clashes almost violently with the stark blue sky. The remarkably complex and ancient culture of the people from Uluru is difficult to rationalize with our own. Many carry on with the traditional lifestyle that dates back many thousands of years. I chose my aboriginal painting purchase to remind me of that contrast AND the wichitee grub that I was challenged to eat during the bush tucker demonstration. (It was actually quite good!)

Then iconic Sydney from Opera House to Bondi Beach that all fit nicely into expectations only to clash that night with dinner in a Bavarian Bier House complete with sausage, Oompah band and nail hammering contest.

Mount Cook with clear skies and a sprinkling of snow forced us to dig a bit deeper into our luggage to stay warm. Our group split into various activities ranging from bush walks to a glacier to scenic cruising on an alpine glacial lake.

One portion of our trip that had little contrast was the quality of our accommodations. They were absolutely top flight with delicious meals, great wines and friendly conversations. Our Tour Guides contrasted in style but not in the depth of their presentations as the bus portions of our tour progressed. All of us left this journey with a contrast in the scope of our knowledge of Australia and New Zealand and an eager desire to visit again.

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Read more about upcoming departures of our Natural Wonders of Australia and New Zealand

tour here.

A Sumptuous Tour of Peru

November 12th, 2013 by Smithsonian Journeys

681_thumbnailJames Kus recently retired after forty one years at California State University, Fresno, where he taught courses on South American geography and archaeology. He first traveled to Peru in 1966; since then he has lived in that country for more than eight years, taught at Peru’s leading university, and carried out archaeological research on ancient agriculture in the northern coastal region. Jim has led more than twenty tours to Peru and has published widely on Andean archaeology and geography, in both popular media and professional journals. Jim is particularly excited to introduce Smithsonian travelers to Andean culture and food; he notes that Peruvian cuisine has recently become very popular worldwide.

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When people hear that I’m going to Peru again, they often assume that it is to visit archaeological sites such as Machu Picchu or others in the Cuzco area.  Or perhaps it’s to see some of the spectacular scenery – snowcapped peaks, the rainforest, or Lake Titicaca.  But more and more these days, when asked why I go to Peru, my answer is “for the food.”

In recent years, Peruvian cuisine has become world famous, thanks to the work of such noted chefs as Gaston Acurio and his wife Astrid Gutsche, who have several restaurants in Lima and elsewhere around the world (several of our tour participants have been lucky enough to secure reservations for one of their Lima spots – but this takes much planning well in advance of the tour).  But every one of the hotels that we use on the Smithsonian Journeys tours have great restaurants, so it is possible to sample a wide variety of typical dishes as well as some of the new eclectic fusion plates and the local wines.

One item that surprises many first-time visitors to Peru is cuy (guinea pig) – usually served roasted, and frankly not an everyday dish for most Peruvians .

Photo courtesy of James Kus

Photo courtesy of James Kus

Consumption of cuyes is most often associated with special celebrations for Peruvian families, but tourists may have a chance to sample roasted cuy at a restaurant in Cuzco.

A very typical Andean food is the potato – several hundred varieties are grown in mountain regions.  Although baked, boiled, or fried potatoes are part of many meals, a great introduction to the Peruvian potato is a dish called causa – essentially cold mashed yellow potatoes, stuffed with chicken, seafood, or vegetables.  Kus-photo-two515My favorite is a causa stuffed with mariscos (shellfish), but some restaurants, such as the dining room at the Inka Terra hotel, feature three different causas as an entrée. Kus-photo-three515 Another typical entrée is ceviche – often a white fish, shrimp, or shellfish prepared in a strong lime/onion/chili pepper mixture (the citric acid “cooks” the fish).  Usually thought of as a coastal dish, some highland restaurants now serve a ceviche done with local trout.

One of the most typical main courses found on dinner menus is lomo saltado – thin slices of meat stir-fried with french fries and vegetables and served with a side of rice.

Photo courtesy of James Kus

Photo courtesy of James Kus

Other dishes that you might find on the menu include lots of varieties of chicken (my own favorite is aji de gallina – shredded chicken in a mild spicy sauce over rice) – or try pollo a la brasa (whole chicken roasted on a spit).

Then there are desserts – a whole range of sweet treats made with local fruits –try lucuma ice cream for something distinctly different.  But my all-time favorite has to be the messy sundae at the Inka Terra restaurant.  That’s the name for it (although on the menu it’s called the “miskey sundae”) – vanilla ice cream, homemade brownies, and a fudge sauce to die for, with the serving glass dipped in the sauce to create the “messy” name.   !Kus-photo-five515

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Read more about upcoming departures of our Legendary Peru tour here.

A Journey Through Southern Spain

November 8th, 2013 by Smithsonian Journeys

_DSC6039_1140H. Rafael Chacón is Professor of Art History and Criticism at The University of Montana-Missoula where he lectures on a broad range of art historical subjects. He received his doctorate in art history with honors from the University of Chicago, having been awarded numerous research fellowships to study in Europe, including an award from the Spanish Ministry of Culture for his dissertation on Michelangelism in renaissance sculpture. He has written on a range of topics related to renaissance and baroque art, both in Europe and in the Americas, most recently focusing on Spanish-style revival architecture in the U.S. northwest during the late 19th century. In 2002, he completed the full pilgrimage from France to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain and in 2010 one of the four principal routes across southern France leading to the “camino.” Dr. Chacón has led numerous successful travel abroad trips with students and has been a speaker for the Smithsonian Journeys program.

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The evening sun is casting long shadows across the vast Andalusian plain and from the vantage point, high on the balcony of the Parador in Carmona, it is easy to contemplate the rich history of the Iberian peninsula. It is autumn, yet the air is still warm and redolent with the scent of boxwood. It is also harvest time and row after row of the silvery blue olive trees hang dense with the promise of another season. Gold begins to tinge the leaves in the vineyards also ready for harvest. In the distance, we see thin wisps of smoke as farmers clear brush and prepare their fields for the rainy season still to come. Portugal-and-Spain-2013-188515

From this perch, it is easy to imagine the thunderous sounds of horses’ hooves on the plain and the clang of steel as armies of Romans, Visigoths, Arabs, and Christians clashed over centuries to seize the promontories and thus take control of these precious agricultural lands. The very stones we have tread on our walk around the charming town of Carmona evoke Roman soldiers marching across ancient Hispania and merchants haggling over the prices of fruits and vegetables: “No thank you, Tullius! Your oranges are much too bitter, only good for decorating the garden or marinating that suckling pig I intend to roast next week!” Today’s faithful enter churches populated by the subtly carved saints and richly embroidered tapestries of renaissance- and baroque-era bishops, but whose foundations were laid by Visigothic kings or Moorish emirs.Portugal-and-Spain-2013-187515
In fact, as we enter through the horseshoe arches of the gates of our parador, once a fortified palace, and walk past the courtyard with its lovely portico of slender marble columns, patterned stucco walls, and bubbling fountains, we cannot help but think of the Moorish kings who built and defended these very walls and spaces for centuries or of King Pedro I, whose love of Islamic ornament guaranteed that mudejar workers would continue to elaborate and expand the palace after it fell into the hands of Christian conquerors.Portugal-and-Spain-2013-183515
But now as the sun begins to set, we finish sipping our glass of sherry from the nearby Jerez region; it is time to retire and our minds turn to the gifts of art and culture that this amazing peninsula will reveal to us tomorrow.

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To learn more about our Treasures of Southern Spain and Portugal tour, click here.

The Summer Home of Storks – Falling in Love with Poland

November 7th, 2013 by Smithsonian Journeys

638_thumbnailCarol Reynolds weaves high energy, humor, and history into everything she does. After a career in music history at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Professor Carol and husband Hank began designing multi-media fine arts curricula. Her unprecedented Discovering Music: 300 Years of Interaction in Western Music, Arts, History, and Culture (2009) has reached students across the world. In 2011 she released a cross-discipline course called Exploring America’s Musical Heritage. She is now creating a curriculum on the history of sacred music from Jewish Liturgy to 1600. Her research interests include German Romanticism and the musical court of Frederick the Great. She is fluent in German and Russian and maintains a home in Weimar. Dr. Reynolds is a staunch advocate of arts education at every stage of life and speaks regularly at educational conferences across the U.S. A pianist and organist, she is a popular speaker for organizations like The Dallas Symphony, Van Cliburn Concerts, The Dallas Opera, Tulsa Symphony, Kimball Museum, Fort Worth Opera, San Francisco Wagner Society, and the Davidson Institute.

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Storks. They were quite a topic during our Fall 2013 Old World Europe tour. Particularly true in Poland, where the stork is an iconic figure. Twenty percent of the world’s population of storks—as many as 50,000—make Poland their summer home. And while storks migrate to Africa for the winter, they return to their massive nests when the weather warms.

Villages are proud of their storks, whose nests are tucked into all kinds of rooftop alcoves and built even atop chimneys. People see themselves sheltered from bad fortune by the presence of those nests. And the nests are astonishing: up to six feet wide, they can weigh over a thousand pounds. They are easy to spot.

And that’s what our Smithsonian Journeys’ guests did in our first days of travel across Poland (Warsaw to Krakow) and on the dazzling ride across the Carpathian Mountains to Budapest. It became a stork-nest spotting competition: “I’m up to four,” cried someone in the front of the bus. “Oh, that’s nothing: my husband has seen six nests so far.”

“Counting storks nests” won’t appear in the promotional material for Smithsonian Journeys, but it’s a perfect example of the delight that characterizes this terrific itinerary across Old World Europe. We spend a generous amount of time in some of Europe’s most significant cities: Vienna and Prague, of course—the two that draw many guests to join this tour; also, Budapest which entices those who’ve never been and many who have longed to return.

The big surprises on the Old World Europe tour, however, are Krakow and Warsaw. Often, we aren’t taught much about these cities, unless we have Polish ancestry.

Recalling the unspeakable destruction of Warsaw in the Second World War, our Smithsonian guests aren’t sure what to expect. They discover a vibrant city filled with the country’s best talent, dedicated to making careers in the new, post-Communist economy. They see a swirl of fashionable young Poles, proud of their ultra-clean business district and excellent public transportation. And they shake their heads in awe, strolling through a resurrected pristine Old Town that war had reduced to ruble.

Krakow is an even bigger surprise. It’s just about the perfect European city.  Small enough so that you can traverse the historic areas in an afternoon, Krakow teams with activity. Museums, cathedrals, towers, arcades, and picturesque alleys remind us that this city was one of few to escape large-scale destruction in Hitler’s time. The miraculous survival of much of the Jewish Quarter allows us a rare chance to imagine how vibrant Jewish life was, before the horrors of genocide tore Europe asunder.

In my experience as Study Leader for this itinerary, I enjoy watching people fall in love with Poland. I hear comments like “I didn’t expect to be so impressed by Warsaw” or  “I can’t wait to come back to Krakow—I had no idea how wonderful it was.”

After all, travel is about discovery and enjoyment. Partly that happens with the impressive architecture and breathtaking scenery. But it happens, too, in the little moments: standing beneath St. Mary’s Tower in Krakow Square as, twenty-four times on the hour, a lone trumpeter serenades Krakow with the plaintive fanfare Hajnal. Or it happens when we breathe the fragrant air of the Łazienki gardens, realizing what a garden paradise Warsaw must have been before its destruction in World War II.

And it definitely happens as we look for stork nests! Ancient legend comes alive in the brave and loyal stork. Art, too, abounds in storks, as in this beloved painting by Józef Chełmoński entitled Storks (Bociany).

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The Old World Europe tour is filled with generous blocks of free time in every city. So when you join us, walk just a few blocks from our hotel in Warsaw to the National Gallery. In its spacious galleries, expect to be captivated by storks and an array of dazzling images as you begin your journey into Eastern Europe’s beguiling history and tradition.

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To learn more about our Old World Europe tour, click here.

In Search of Morocco’s Lost Jewish Heritage

November 1st, 2013 by Moshe Gershovich

435_thumbnailDr. Moshe Gershovich is Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History at the University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO). A native of Israel, he earned a B.A. at Tel Aviv University and a Ph.D. in history and Middle Eastern studies at Harvard University. He taught for three years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before traveling to Morocco in 1998 as a Fulbright Senior Scholar to

research the oral history of Moroccan veterans of the French Army. Moshe resided in Morocco between 1998 and 2000 during which time he also taught at Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane. He is the author of French Military Rule in Morocco: Colonialism and Its Consequences (Cass, 2000) as well as numerous

scholarly and popular articles related to the modern history and politics of

Morocco and French colonialism. In recent years, Moshe has taken groups of UNO students to Morocco where they were immersed in the study of Arabic and North African history and culture. He is fluent in Hebrew, French, and Moroccan Arabic.

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A Cemetery and a Synagogue, an Orphanage and a Museum

Morocco is a Muslim country as anyone visiting it today can notice right away.  Anywhere you turn you’ll see mosques, madrasas, and other signs of Islamic civilization.  Virtually 100% of the population consists of Sunni Muslims.  Whether or not they observe their faith to the fullest extent notwithstanding, the religious homogeneity of the Moroccan nation is evident.  This, however, was not always the case.  Up to two generations ago, a small yet significant portion of the population exercised the Jewish faith while sharing a common heritage with their Muslim compatriots.  Numbering more than a quarter of a million souls at the time of Morocco’s independence in 1956 (out of a population of about 10 million), the Jewish community today has shrunk to about 5,000 members.  For all intents and purpose, Jewish presence in Morocco has vanished.  The reasons for the mass and rather sudden exodus of Jews from Morocco lie beyond the scope of this piece, as does the long and rich history of Judaism there.  What concerns us here is the manner in which the memory of that history is being preserved in a variety of ways, as our tour has discovered at three distinct locations:  Fez, Sefrou, and Casablanca.

Photo courtesy of Moshe Gershovich

Photo courtesy of Moshe Gershovich

Photo courtesy of Moshe Gershovich

Photo courtesy of Moshe Gershovich

The origins of Judaism in the extreme northwestern corner of Africa are unclear, but that presence may be traced back to ancient times, predating by at least half a millennium the arrival of Islam to that part of the world.  Jews arriving from the Eastern Mediterranean integrated among the Imazighren (Berber) tribes, some of whom may have converted to Judaism, before switching to Islam.  Andalusian Jews fleeing from the Christian Reconquista found refuge in Morocco and helped build its unique identity in later centuries.  Benefiting from their protected status as “People of the Book,” Moroccan Jews added skills and resourcefulness to the Sharifian Sultanate but remained a distinct minority group.  With the growth of European influence during the 19th century, many among them embraced the economic, cultural, and educational opportunities it provided.  By the time the French Protectorate was established in 1912, Moroccan Jews had already began to assimilate into French culture, although they remained subjects of the Sultan, whose symbolic protection helped them traverse the painful era of the pro-Nazi Vichy regime during World War II.  With the advent of Morocco’s struggle for independence, however, Jews felt by and large left out, suspected of affiliation with the colonial order and with the newly formed State of Israel.  Presented with the opportunity to migrate, amid uncertain future in the independent Morocco, many Jews voted with their feet and left during the 1950s and early 1960s.  Another wave of migration came after the 1967 Six-Day War, which had intensified tension between Jews and Arabs throughout the Middle East.

Photo courtesy of Moshe Gershovich

Photo courtesy of Moshe Gershovich

A Cemetery and a Synagogue in the Mellah of Fez

On the afternoon of its first day in Fez, our group visited the old Mellah (Jewish neighborhood). Even though Rabat is Morocco’s political capital, and Casablanca its economic hub, Fez may be said to represent the soul of the nation.  The imperial capital of the north, built more than twelve centuries ago, has served as the seat of power and religion for most of Moroccan history.  The Mellah itself, originally created during the 14th Century, as part of the Marinid construction of “New Fez,” was intentionally situated next to the royal palace, as if to signify the Sultan’s protection of “his” Jews.  The elegant balconies facing the main street of the Mellah, a tribute to the Andalusian architecture most original inhabitants of the Mellah had left behind, stand in stark contradiction to the austere and simple outward look of the old Muslim Medina.  In that section, which we had visited that same morning, a home’s beauty can only be appreciated once you pass beyond the simple, non-distinct façade.

Photo courtesy of Moshe Gershovich

Photo courtesy of Moshe Gershovich

Jews have resided in Fez since its creation twelve centuries ago and their history there includes periods of great scholarly tradition and economic prosperity, where others suffered poverty and persecutions.  The city’s most famous Jewish inhabitant was philosopher Moses ben Maimon, “Maimonides,” who escaped from Cordoba, Spain during the Almohade terror of 1165, and lived in Fez for five years, before moving to Egypt.  In modern times the local community underwent turmoil and changes.  In April 1912, a military uprising against the imposition of the French Protectorate resulted in a three-day attack on the Mellah and the killing of at least 45 of its inhabitants.  A few years later, Jews began to leave the Mellah and move to the newly built European city.  Towards the end of the Protectorate, the Jewish population reached 22,000.  Today, however, only about 60 Jews continue to live there and none reside in the Mellah.

One of these Jews, a caretaker, Monsieur Gabai, met us at the edge of the old cemetery and led us through it.  The cemetery dates back to the early 17th century and is still in use today as can be seen by recent tombstones of community members who have deceased in recent years.  All tombstones are white and most are made of simple stone.  Many tombs are unmarked, bearing victims of the Black Plague, who had to be buried hurriedly.   While dotted with the graves of notable religious scholars and communal leaders, the cemetery’s most famous figure was 17 year-old Sol Hachiel, AKA Lalla Suleika.  A native of Tangiers, this beautiful maiden had been falsely accused of conversion to Islam and then reneging on her conversion.  When she refused to abandon her Jewish faith, she was condemned to death and beheaded in 1834.  Her martyrdom propelled her to the level of popular saint, revered by both Jews and Muslims.

Photo courtesy of Moshe Gershovich

Photo courtesy of Moshe Gershovich

From the cemetery we proceeded to visit the Ibn Denan synagogue.  This 17th century house of worship, one of the oldest and most important still in existence in North Africa, had been built by a prominent Moroccan Jewish family and renovated to its present form in the late 19th century.  It is a rare relic of a period in which the Jewish community of Fez had thrived.  Its importance comes from the fact that it contains the only complete set of Moroccan synagogue fittings in existence.  After suffering from many years of neglect and disrepair, due to the shrinking size of the Jewish community, the synagogue eventually became included in the World Monuments Watch’s list of 100 endangered monuments in need of preservation.  Its renovation involved contributions from various private and public bodies including the Moroccan government and descendants of the Ibn Danan family.  Restoration work began in the late 1980s and completed a decade later with a May 1999 dedication ceremony, patronized by the Moroccan government.

Standing inside the beautifully restored interior, facing the ornate Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark) with my fellow travelers sitting on both sides of the Bimah (raised platform) was the perfect setting for me to deliver an impromptu lecture about the long history of Moroccan Jewry and its relations with the government of the Sultan.  I also talked about the reasons for the departure of most Moroccan Jews and the prospects for the future of that community.

An Orphanage in Sefrou

The following morning we left Fez and drove east to Bahlil, a charming Arab-speaking village in the midst of a Berber-speaking region, where we were treated to a tea ceremony in a cave-dwelling.  From there we continued to Sefrou, the region’s administrative center.  Located at the foot of the Middle Atlas Mountains, 28 km (18 miles) from Fez, this town of some 80,000 inhabitants has played an important role as a trading center on the route of caravans from the southeastern oasis of Tafilalt, birthplace of Morocco’s ruling dynasty.  Nowadays, the local economy is based mostly on agriculture and the town is known for its annual cherry festival in the month of June.

Sefrou used to be a cultural crossroads where Jews and Muslims, Berbers and Arabs peacefully coexisted for centuries.  This cultural mosaic led numerous American anthropologists, notably Clifford Geertz, to choose Sefrou for their field research.  For much of its history, Sefrou had been one of a handful Moroccan villages with a high percentage of Jewish population.  By the time of Moroccan independence in 1956, Jews still composed a third of Sefrou’s population, about 5,000 living in the small Mellah.  Only a few remain there since the mass exodus of Morocco’s Jews in the 1960s and early 1970s.  The Jewish Mellah is now inhabited by Muslims and the property left behind is taken care of by them.

Our group visited one of these places, an orphanage named Em Habanim (“Mother of the Boys”), situated just outside the Mellah in an enclosed compound.  The orphanage had been part of the Em habanim network of Jewish Moroccan schools, established in 1912 by a group of Jewish women as a counterpart to the Francophone system of the Alliance Israélite Universelle.  The first school and orphanage was established in Fez and the Sefrou school was inaugurated in 1917.  It provided elementary education to Jewish children for five decades.  Today, the place is deserted for the most part, except for groups like ours who visit it occasionally.

Our tour focused on the orphanage’s synagogue, which is well preserved and contains a small library of Hebrew prayer books (Sidurim) as well as some books in French.  The pastel colored walls and decorations hint at the identity of its original residents.  A short clip from a 1997 documentary film by director David Assulin, called  Haaretz Hamuvtahat (“The Promised Land”) contains original footing, presumably from the 1950s, depicting Jewish boys eating and praying at the school.  The clip can be found on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SQiNNH6WOc.

A Museum in Casablanca

On the last day of our tour we reached Morocco’s largest city, Casablanca.  As we approached the city from its southern side, having arrived from Marrakech, we stopped at the plush suburb of Oasis to visit the Museum of Moroccan Judaism.  This is the only museum of its kind in any Arab-speaking country and one of only two museums in any Muslim country (the other is located in Istanbul, Turkey).   It is also the only museum in the entire city of Casablanca, the fifth largest city in Africa.

Situated behind the thick white walls of a lovely villa, which once served, just as in Sefrou, as an orphanage. The museum is surrounded by a beautiful garden, which blends well into this plush neighborhood.  There are no signs to guide the visitors to its location and only when you get there can you notice a generic plaque stating it’s a “museum” in Arabic and French.  A second sign above the inner entrance provides more proper introduction in four languages, including English and Hebrew.  Another plaque, in French only, is dedicated to the man who founded the museum and the foundation for the preservationof Moroccan Jewish culture, Simon Levy.

Photo courtesy of Moshe Gershovich

Photo courtesy of Moshe Gershovich

Widely regarded as Morocco’s foremost authority on Moroccan Jewish culture, Levy was born in Fez in 1934 and died in Rabat 77 years later. He was a professor in the Spanish Department of Mohamed V University in Rabat since 1971. A devoted activist since his youth to the cause of Moroccan independence and human rights, Simon Levy had been imprisoned numerous times during the late colonial period and again during the reign of King Hassan II.  He was a leading figure and active member of Morocco’s Communist party, in which he held key positions for more than 30 years. He was also the Secretary General of the “Foundation of Judeo-Moroccan Cultural Heritage” and the Founding Director of the Museum in Casablanca.

The museum contains a permanent display of artifacts related to the rich history and culture of Moroccan Jewry.  These range from large items, such as the restored bimah from a synagogue in Tetouan (Northern Morocco) to small dolls depicting Jewish brides in their wedding dresses.  Full-size garments are also displayed, along with stunning jewelry pieces worn by brides.  Various religious artifacts such as mezuzahs (doorposts), Hanukiah menoras, Kiddush cups, etc. can also be found in the exhibit halls.  Other than the permanent collection, the museum also organizes occasional exhibits on related topics.

Conclusion:  Judaism as a Component of Moroccan Identity

As we were about to exit the Jewish Museum, we stopped in front of a plaque in Arabic and French, containing the preamble to the newly revised Moroccan Constitution of 2011, which reads as follows:

“A sovereign Muslim State, attached to its national unity and to its territorial integrity, the Kingdom of Morocco intends to preserve, in its plentitude and its diversity, its one and indivisible national identity. Its unity, is forged by the convergence of its Arab-Islamist, Berber [amazighe] and Saharan- components, nourished and enriched by its African, Andalusian, Hebraic and Mediterranean influences.

Photo courtesy of Moshe Gershovich

Photo courtesy of Moshe Gershovich

 

The official inclusion of both Berber and Jewish (“Hebraic”) identities as components of Morocco’s national identity is a very meaningful act, which recognizes the contribution of both Berbers and Jews to Morocco’s history and culture.  Thus, even though very few Jews continue to reside in Morocco today, those living in other countries (notably Israel, but also in Europe and North America) are still regarded as belonging to the Moroccan nation and are encouraged to visit it and invest in its future.  While the physical presence of Jews in Morocco may have nearly ended, their impact on its character continues to be felt nearly everywhere you go.

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To learn more about our Splendors in Morocco tour click here.