Morocco

Yael Eckstein, left, senior vice president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship), participates in The Fellowship’s distribution of food to needy Moroccan families during Ramadan.

I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. There I was, an Orthodox Israeli Jew, at a 500-year-old synagogue in Marrakesh, distributing food parcels to Muslims for Ramadan, representing the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship) on behalf of millions of Christians in the U.S. and worldwide.

It seemed too good to be true. But as I quickly learned, it was just another day in Morocco, home to a dwindling population of 2,500 Jews.

Though Morocco is a Muslim country, the bellboy at my hotel told me, Jews were in Morocco 600 years before Muslims. “This is your home,” the bellboy said, pointing to a picture on the wall of the Atlas Mountains. “Your people were here before mine.”

Moroccans are genuine in their love and respect for the Jewish people. I nearly cried when I saw how well the locals preserve the Jewish cemetery.

“Why do you treat the Jews so well?” I asked a Muslim teen who works for an organization called Mimouna, whose members are passionate about spreading Jewish history.

“Why wouldn’t we treat them well?” he responded. Indeed, Morocco is one of the few places where Christians, Muslims and Jews coexist in peace and mutual respect.

One night I attended a Ramadan fast-breaking event — organized by the local Chabad rabbi at an Orthodox synagogue. Dozens of Jews and Muslims gathered to celebrate. King Mohammed VI’s representative for Marrakesh also attended. He sent blessings from the king and answered “amen” when the rabbi said the Jewish prayer for kings.

Why are Jews in Morocco treated so well? Because of the king. During World War II, when the Nazis asked the king of Morocco to put together a list of Jews in his country, he answered, “We don’t have Jews, we have Moroccans,” and refused to comply.

Today’s king, Mohammed VI, is the grandson of King Mohammed V, who protected his country’s 265,000 Jews. Like his grandfather, Mohammed VI believes Jews are just as Moroccan as everyone else.

In a decade, there may not be any Jews left in Morocco. After my four-day journey there, I understand why it’s important that our organization partnered with Chabad and Mimouna to distribute thousands of food parcels from the country’s ancient synagogues to local Muslims for Ramadan. It is critical that we continue to distribute food to poor Jews, so they aren’t looked at as beggars, but rather serve as an example of how all Jews, Christians and Muslims look out for one another.

In a country that lives on ancient spiritual stories of holy men and women who once walked its streets, this is our opportunity to leave a legacy on behalf of the Moroccan Jews who came before.

What legacy should we leave? That the Jewish people came in peace, left in peace and were only known for peace. This is what it means to live in the vision of God. JN

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