Morocco’s rich Jewish heritage is a unique piece of history that is unknown to most travelers – and that in itself is reason enough to explore it on your next holiday to this exotic country. Although Jews historically lived in mellahs (or Jewish Quarters) in a number of Moroccan cities, including Fez and Marrakech, a majority of the Jewish population in Morocco today resides in Casablanca today. It is here that you will be able to find a thriving Jewish community along with a host of relevant monuments, communal spaces, kosher restaurants, cemeteries, shrines, and museums. One of the most impressive sights is the Museum of Moroccan Judaism (Musée du Judaisme Marocain) and often simply called the Moroccan Jewish Museum, this museum in Casablanca a one-of-a-kind history and ethnography institute dedicated to past, present, and even future life of Jewish life in Morocco.
A Unique Museum
The exhibitions and collections dedicated to Morocco’s Jewish heritage is a solid reason to allow for a one to two hour visit. But, the museum’s history adds an impressive backstory to its rich collections.
Interestingly, the building housing the Jewish Museum was actually an active part of Jewish life in Morocco itself. Although the museum only opened in the late 1990s, the structure containing it was built in 1948 by Célia Bengio who named it Home d’Enfants Murdock Bengio. The building functioned as an orphanage dedicated to protecting orphaned Jewish youth in Casablanca and gained its namesake after the founder’s late husband.
The orphanage was closed in the mid-1990s and thereafter the building underwent extensive renovations to take its current form, opening in 1997, becoming North Africa and the Middle East’s first (and still only) museum dedicated to the preservation of Jewish culture, heritage, and history. It’s the second Jewish museum in the Muslim world; the first being founded in Istanbul, Turkey.
The Museum Today
The museum’s historical value is truly impressive, but its precious treasures lie within its walls neatly organized into a host of rich collections and exhibitions. Enclosed within is a large multipurpose room, five exhibition rooms, and a library containing a host of documents, videos and photographs. The main room hosts temporary as well as permanent art exhibitions featuring paintings, photographs and sculpture relevant to the history of Jewish life in Morocco. Three of the exhibition rooms are dedicated to showcasing daily life artifacts used by Jewish populations in Morocco and the other two are exquisite reproductions of Moroccan synagogues.
In total, the spacious museum covers an area of 700 meters-squared and features a number of relevant artifacts that trace the history of Jews in Morocco ranging from photographs, carpets, Moroccan kaftan, traditional household tools, Torah scrolls, and much more. These items tell the story of Jewish life in Morocco, demonstrating how two seemingly disparate faiths came together throughout time to create a rich and unique cultural heritage.
Finding the Jewish Museum
You will find the Moroccan Jewish Museum quietly tucked in the residential neighborhood of Oasis in Casablanca. Many maps will not list the actual street, 81, Rue Chasseur Jules Gros. For specifics about the museum, current displays, and directions, feel free to call +212 (0) 522 99 49 40. The hours of operation are 10am to 5pm M-F and 11am to 3pm on Sunday; closed Saturdays. Mid-sized groups of five or more persons can call to schedule a visit well in advance in French or English for a fee (and/or sizable donation).
If you’d like to take a cultural adventure in Morocco unlike any other, our team at Journey Beyond Travel arranges custom tours to Morocco for discerning travelers. You also can read more about Casablanca in our insider’s guide to Casablanca. Whether Jewish heritage is on the agenda or if you’d like to focus on city, mountain, or desert, send us an email to begin planning.
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This article was co-authored with Maria Inês Pinto, a young Portuguese freelancer born with a passion for writing and travel.She has spent her life hopping around different countries, having lived in Canada, the US, India and Ireland. Now residing in Portugal, she is planning to move to Mozambique soon to pursue her third passion: humanitarian work. In her free time, she travels and writes about her adventures.