After the terrible earthquake in Morocco last week, which claimed thousands of lives, two synagogues in Marrakech faced different fates. While one synagogue remains closed due to damage, another will open its doors for Rosh Hashanah.
Al Fassiyine Synagogue will not host Rosh Hashanah services this year, as it was rendered inaccessible by the earthquake ruins. However, the Slat al-Azama synagogue, located in the Mellah (Jewish quarter), is open for prayer, sources from the Jewish community confirmed to The Jerusalem Post.
A source said: “The synagogue and the Jewish community will boldly continue all efforts to hold Rosh Hashanah services this year.” In addition, the nearby synagogues in the medina – the main central area of the city located outside the historic Jewish quarter – will host members of the Jewish community in the affected synagogue.
The earthquake, with a devastating magnitude of 6.8, caused more than 2,800 deaths and more than 2,500 injuries in Marrakech, which was the strongest to hit the center of the country in more than 120 years, and the the greatest destruction occurred in remote mountainous areas. The powerful earthquake forced people across the country to flee into the streets as buildings collapsed, creating an urgent need for aid. King Mohammed VI of Morocco ordered the creation of an aid commission to distribute aid to survivors, with world leaders pledging their support.
Moroccan Jews have a long history, dating back to Roman times, and have experienced waves of immigration. The first wave began in the year 70 AD, and the second important wave came from the Iberian Peninsula after the promulgation of the Alhambra Decree in 1492, which caused the expulsion and persecution of many Jews in Spain and, later, in Portugal. . This second wave of immigrants transformed Moroccan Judaism, giving rise to a predominantly Sephardic identity influenced by the Andalusian Sephardic liturgy.
The Slat al-Azama synagogue and the Jewish museum suffered extensive structural damage in the earthquake, with cracks in the walls, stairs and ceiling. This synagogue is historically associated with the Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492 and has stood the test of time in its original location. It is integrated into a larger building, with a central courtyard and a fountain, commonly known as a riad. This integration of a synagogue into a private house is a common practice in the mellahs of Marrakech and Fez. The synagogue has beautiful, intricate traditional Moroccan decoration, including zellij (tiled mosaic).
Another synagogue that was severely affected by the earthquake was that of Al Fassiyine. Its walls and roof collapsed, scattering debris on the floor, while cracks ran through the synagogue’s white arches. Al Fassiyine Synagogue is one of the few synagogues where the non-Sephardic rituals of the toshavim (native Moroccan Jews) continued into the 20th century. Known as the oldest Mellah synagogue in Fez and one of the oldest in continuous use in Morocco, it is believed to have been built during the Merinid sultanate (13th-15th centuries). Interestingly, the synagogue remained active until the late 1950s, when most of the Jewish community in the area emigrated to Israel, France and Montreal (Canada).
After Morocco gained independence from France in 1956, the synagogue underwent many changes, serving as a carpet-making workshop and later as a boxing gym. The restoration process did not begin until 2013, with financing from the German Government, the Jewish community of Fez, the Foundation for Moroccan Jewish Cultural Heritage and the Moroccan Government.
Miraculously, no Israelis were injured while traveling in Morocco, and no members of the Jewish population living in Morocco were injured or killed in the earthquake. According to the Moroccan Jewish community, the synagogues will undergo renovation and restoration to restore their original beauty and meaning.