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The Jewish Community of Casablanca


In Arabic: الدار البيضاء‎  / Dar El Beida

The largest city and harbor of Morocco.

Casablanca was known as Anfa during the Middle Ages. The city was destroyed by the Portuguese in 1468, and its Jewish community was dispersed. Moses and Dinar Anfaoui (i.e., "of Anfa") were among the signatories of the "Takkanot" of Fez in 1545. In 1750 the rabbi Elijah synagogue was built, but it was only in 1830 with the arrival of Jewish merchants, principally from Mogador, Rabat, and Tetuan, that the community really developed.

At the beginning of the 20th century there were 20,000 inhabitants, of whom 6,000 were Jews. There were then two synagogues, eight Talmud Torah schools, and four private schools. The first Alliance Israelite Universelle school, founded in 1897, was supported by the local notables. After the plunder in 1903 of Settat, an important center of the region, the community received 1,000 Jewish refugees. Later, Casablanca was itself devastated by tribes in rebellion, and a large number of its inhabitants were massacred in August 1907. Among the Jews, there were 30 dead, some gravely injured, and 250 women and children abducted.

By 1912 Casablanca became the economic capital of Morocco and, thereby, an important center for the Jews of Morocco, as well as for their coreligionists all over north Africa and Europe. The Casablanca community distinguished itself in all spheres by the intensity of its activities.

Many of its members held high positions in commerce, industry, and the liberal professions. The upper class of Casablanca's Jewish community founded numerous philanthropic societies to care for the needs of their coreligionists who arrived in successive groups from the interior of the country. The new arrivals, who were often without any means of livelihood, gathered in the "Mellah" district of the ancient Medina and lived in great poverty.

The "community council" provided them with various kinds of support, the funds for which were collected from a tax on meat and from private donations. The schools of the Alliance also provided free education. During World War II the anti-Jewish policies of the Vichy government restricted the rights of the Jews, especially in Casablanca, and even deprived them of their livelihood until the landing of the allies in 1942. After the liberation of Morocco, many Jews from the interior, often only the men, were attracted to Casablanca by the city's prosperity. For more than 35 years the community was led by Yachia Zagury (d. 1944). Principal spiritual leaders of the community had included Chayyim Elmalech (d. 1857), David Ouaknin (d. 1873), Isaac Marrache (d. 1905), Moses Eliakim (d. 1939), and Chayyim Bensussan.

Between 1948 and 1968 tens of thousands of Moroccan Jews went to Casablanca, either to settle there or to await emigration. Numerically, the drop in population resulting from the emigration was offset by the constant influx of Jews from the provinces so that the population figures of the Jews in the town hardly changed until 1962.

In 1948 the number of Jews in Casablanca was estimated at about 70,000; while census reports indicated that 74,783 Jews in 1951 (34% of Moroccan Jewry) and 72,026 Jews in 1960 (54.1% of the total Jewish population of Morocco) lived in Casablanca. However, in 1964 the number of Jews in Casablanca was estimated at about 60,000 out of the 85,000 Jews in Morocco. There followed a large-scale exodus of Jews from the town; their numbers were not replenished by new arrivals. Out of a total of 50,000 Moroccan Jews there remained an estimated 37,000 in Casablanca in 1967 and no more than 17,000 out of a total population of 22,000 Jews the following year. Until Morocco gained its independence, Casablanca Jews did not enjoy equal rights, and in 1949 only 600 of the 70,000 Jews in Casablanca had the right to vote in municipal elections. From 1956, however, when all of Moroccan Jewry acquired equal rights, Jews in Casablanca voted and were elected in municipal elections. In 1964 three Jewish representatives sat on the Casablanca city council, and in 1959 Meyer Toledano was elected deputy mayor. From 1948 to 1968 there were several instances of attacks on Jews, particularly on the eve of Moroccan independence (1956) and to a lesser extent after the Six Day War of June 1967. The authorities did their utmost to protect the Jewish population.

As the largest Jewish community in north Africa, Casablanca had many communal institutions, including schools of Alliance Israelite Universelle, Otzar Ha-Torah (which had 2,079 pupils in 1961), Em Ha-Banim, and ORT. There was also a rabbinical seminary Magen David, founded in 1947. A total of 15,450 pupils attended Casablanca Jewish educational establishments in 1961 but most of these institutions closed after 1965. The community had many charitable organizations, administered by the community committee. Until 1957 the Jewish agency maintained offices in the town, as did the Jewish national fund, the American Jewish Joint Distribution committee and WIZO, but all these were closed after Morocco became independent.

In 1997 there were 6,000 Jews living in Morocco, 5,000 of them in Casablanca.

There are synagogues, "mikvaot", old age homes and kocher restaurants in Casablanca. The Chabad, ORT, Alliance and Otzar Ha-Torah schools have remained active. The Chabad movement is active there. Religious education is given in the Lycee Yeshiva, "kollel" of Casablanca. Since 1963 there have been Jewish newspapers.

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Graciane Finzi (b. 1945), composer, born in Casablanca, Morocco, into a family of musicians. She studied at the Conservatory of Casablanca, where her parents were teachers, and then at Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris (CNSMD), where she studied piano. She served as director of the Festival de la Défense from 1975 to 1979 and as a teacher at Conservatory of Paris after 1979. From 1977 to 2000, she acted asofficial representative to AFAA (Association Française d’Action Artistique) andvice-president of SIMC (International Society for Contemporary Music) and of Société Nationale. Prior to that, she was a member of the SACEM Symphonic Commission. From 2001 to 2003, she was a composer in residence with Lille National Orchestra.

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