Morocco is characterized by its cultural and historical diversity. This land is marked by the presence of various religious and cultural groups, including the Jewish community, which is a vital part of the social and cultural fabric of the Kingdom. The Jewish community in Morocco has a long and inspiring history that spans across two millenia, telling a story of constructive coexistence and interaction between this community and Moroccan society.
The Jewish presence in Morocco made significant contributions to shaping Moroccan identity, becoming integral to daily life, the economy, and civilization. This influence is evident in many cultural aspects. Moroccan cities bear witness to the existence of their ancient synagogues and historical quarters that narrate tales of shared life between Jews and Muslims. This is particularly evident in the city of Marrakech, especially in the village of Akrich, which had a profound impact on me during my visit. Its Moroccan Jewish history is clearly visible as an inseparable part of the village’s heritage.
When I stepped into the Akrich Jewish cemetery, I felt like I was embarking on a journey through time, with graves and tombs where the Cohen family was buried, recounting stories and memories that span centuries. The spirituality in this place heightened, and I realized the importance of preserving the shared cultural heritage and respecting others, sparking an unparalleled curiosity in me, as if my eyes were opening doors to a mysterious world of history and culture.
This curiosity stemmed from my deep desire to understand the story of this place, carrying within ancient events and diverse experiences.
Among the graves of the cemetery, I felt a vivid translation of the Jewish history of Akrich, as if the ancient stones were telling me stories about the lives of individuals who contributed to building this community. I wondered about the historical events that took place in this location and the names engraved on the tombstones.
This led me to explore the corners of the cemetery carefully, pondering the life stories of these individuals until it became a focal point for hundreds. This sacred place serves as a pilgrimage destination for the Jewish people, guarded by the Abderahim Al-Hameen family, who have inherited this responsibility from his grandfather and father. This family has witnessed the developments of this sacred place for nearly 100 years.
When I met him, his face harmonized with the roots of the place, as if he were a part of the living history that this cemetery carries. The conversation began simply about the daily aspects of his work as a cemetery guard, but it quickly turned into a journey through the years and the transformations of the cemetery since its establishment. He spoke about the times when the cemetery was crucial for the Jewish community, pointing to the period when the cemetery was restored in 1990 and how it has been visited since that time.
He talked about the efforts made to preserve this place as part of the local heritage, and his words transported me back in time, allowing me to see vivid images of those periods. Mr. Abderahim reflected deep nostalgia and respect for the cemetery's history and the efforts aimed at preserving this shared cultural heritage between moments of decline and the revival of this cemetery.
In 2012, Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir, the President of the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), visited the cemetery. He played a prominent role in revitalizing the Akrich Jewish cemetery, transforming it into a vibrant and environmentally active place. This inspiring man led pioneering efforts to contribute to preserving the cultural and historical heritage of the region. With a clear vision for positive change, HAF, the Moroccan Jewish Community, and local partners inaugurated a nursery adjacent to the Akrich Jewish cemetery in 2012.
Life and growth flourished in this place, becoming a symbol of coexistence and renewal. Plants and trees grew, reflecting the philosophy of life and hope for survival. As the days passed, the nursery expanded, benefiting public schools as well. Donations of various seedlings contributed to creating an eco-friendly atmosphere at the schools, enhancing environmental awareness among students and encouraging them to participate in planting and caring for plants. This donation diversified the school environment, improving air quality and the aesthetic appearance of the school.
The nursery also transformed into a center for international students to learn about different faiths and ethnicities in Morocco, most recently from the University of Virginia’s Darden business school. The story of the Akrich nursery serves as a symbol of intercultural communication and understanding between Jewish and Moroccan people, fostering regular visits and knowledge exchange. In the context of social impact, a women's cooperative for making traditional Moroccan carpets called "Zarbia Ashbarou" emerged. When delegations visit the nursery, they also learn about the dedication and strength of rural women capable of working and investing. This cooperative not only provides income for local women but also contributes to the preservation of heritage.
This nursery not only enhances communication and understanding among community members but also represents a symbol of collaborative work and positive interaction between different communities. As a Muslim, I felt proud to witness joint efforts to improve living conditions and support traditional crafts.
The nursery has become a hub for development and the stimulation of the local economy, bringing invaluable benefits to the village of Akrich. Among its key aspects is the transformation of infrastructure, providing modern roads and potable water, making life easier and more comfortable for the village residents. Improving infrastructure has a positive impact on the quality of life and promotes sustainable development.
The efforts led by Dr. Ben-Meir reflect his deep commitment to achieving sustainable development and promoting cultural communication in an environment where history and the present uniquely blend. The curiosity that overwhelmed me to learn about the history of the Jewish cemetery in Akrich made me understand that ancient places carry stories worth exploring. Every place holds a unique history that deserves reflection and contemplation.