Agadir is a lovely beach resort city located on the Atlantic Ocean

Agadir is a lovely beach resort city located on the Atlantic Ocean in the south of Morocco. After many years of reconstruction after an earthquake in 1960 completely devastated the city, Agadir is now one of Morocco’s top beach resort destinations. Wealthy Moroccans, as well as Europeans from the United Kingdom to Russia, frequent the cty year round because of its gorgeous weather and beaches. I intended to take a quick, 2-day trip there after a hectic hiloulah-weekend in Essaouira, in order to unwind, get a tan and take a break from work before heading to Marrakesh. However, as I seem to always manage, I found some Jews and stayed a few extra days to learn about their community in Agadir.

I met the first Jews sort of by accident- I read in my trusty Lonely Planet that there is a great restaurant on the beach called Chez Mimi, who’s cuisine reflects Mimi’s origins- French, Spanish and Jewish. I went figuring maybe I could chat with Mimi a little over dinner, and that would be that. Well, it turned out that Mimi wasn’t there when I sat down for dinner, but I was thrilled anyway because they had kosher meat available on the menu AND served alcohol. This is my kind of place. About halfway through the meal, Mimi’s husband, Alan, approached my table asking if I had asked for Mimi. After explaining to him that I had, a little about myself and why I wanted to meet her, he returned to my table with his and my dinner and we dined together while talking about Jewish things. He informed me that I should return the next afternoon when Mimi was working, as she would be happy to meet me and talk to me. I couldn’t believe my luck when he reported that in 2 days a Yizkor was being held at the synagogue; it was a rare occasion for most of the community to gather because they rarely even receive a minyan on Shabbat. The following is a summary of what I learned at the Yizkor about the Jewish community in Agadir.

The Jewish community in Agadir was very numerous when the earthquake struck in 1960; it did not discriminate between Muslims and Jews and many from both communities were lost during this tragedy. The city decided not to try to sift through the wreckage nor to rebuild the old medina that was the site of ruin and destruction, but instead, built a cemetery right on top of the former medina. Both a Muslim and a Jewish cemetery can be visited today, eerily on top of the exact spot where the city used to stand. In the years following the earthquake, the new city of Agadir was built further down the hill from the old medina. Many of the Jews that survived the earthquake moved to Marrakesh (a few hours away) or other cities in Morocco.

The community that currently resides in Agadir numbers about 80, approximately 20 families, and consists of mainly older people. This number fluctuates as many Jews only reside in Agadir for vacation and usually have other homes in Europe. After the earthquake, the city gave the Jewish community a piece of land on which to build a new synagogue, and this stands today. Unfortunately, they do not usually receive a minyan for Shabbat, and Jewish life is relatively limited in the city. However, the Jews here live well; many of them own thriving businesses in this bustling tourist city, get along well with their Arab neighbors and live comfortably. Mimi and Alan even explained to me that they have more difficulties with the 4000 French people living in Agadir than the Arabs. They reported that this community is racist because they consider themselves superior to the other communities in Agadir, they only associate with one another, and they even behave nastily to the couple because they close the restaurant on Friday afternoons for Shabbat. On the other hand, they argue, the Arabs respect their establishment and their decisions and the couple maintains very strong relationships and even friendships with the Moroccans residing in Agadir.

While it didn’t end up being a true “get away” because I was able to meet Jews and learn about the Jewish history of the city, I truly enjoyed my time in Agadir. Its modern and European appearance did actually make me feel like I had left Morocco for a few days, which was a nice change after about 6 weeks in the country. Think- Eilat, Israel. Furthermore, I felt completely at home with the Jewish community there; everyone was excited to meet me and talk to me and I was even able to make contacts for my travels later in the year.

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Sousse is a highly developed seaside city

Sousse is a highly developed seaside city that is one of Tunisia’s largest tourist destinations. In 1956 it was home to 6,000 Jews and three synagogues, while today only one synagogue remains functional for prayer and only around 30 Jews still live there. This number fluctuates because many of the residents live part-time in Sousse and part-time in France. The community sustains itself with the aforementioned 150 year old synagogue that usually receives a minyan for Saturday morning services, but not Friday night (only two people were in attendance when I attended Friday services), and a shochet that comes to Sousse once a month from Djerba to provide kosher chicken and meat. I was lucky during my visit to Sousse because a Sousse-born resident of France had returned for the week and was sponsoring a kiddish on Saturday afternoon, after the prayer service. About 25 people were in attendance, so I was able to become familiar with the community and collect some information.

Although I was able to speak to a number of people, many of the reports were mixed. When I asked if there was a Jewish school in the past, some answered that there was but it has been closed for some time, and others denied its existence. Furthermore, when I inquired about the Jewish migration from Sousse, one man told me that most of the Jews from Sousse migrated to Israel, even though all of the native-born people visiting Sousse and the synagogue at that time lived in France. The woman that takes care of the synagogue told me that Jews began leaving in the late 1950s because of wars and because they thought it was dangerous, even though there were never incidences of violence in Sousse. On the other hand, a couple that had migrated to France in 1989 claimed that many Jews moved after 1967 because they were scared of the violence elsewhere in Tunisia. One last person told me that many Jews were scared in 1967, but not enough to leave Sousse; he argued that they were only compelled to leave after 1969, when the government socialized businesses and Jews were losing a lot of money under the new system. According to these conflicting reports it is difficult to draw any solid conclusions on the migration from Sousse, except that we can safely assume that a wide array of reasons and circumstances led each family to react and decide their own fate personally.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of my trip to Sousse was the presence of a non-Jew at synagogue on Saturday afternoon. This particular person described himself to me as an agnostic, but he was born Muslim in Sousse. He seemed to be very friendly with many of the Jews at the kiddish and there seemed to be little opposition to his attendance. Only one man disapproved enough to express it to me when he told me that he believes “some of the Jews in Sousse are too close to Muslims.” This man does not live in Sousse anymore (he was just visiting at the time), and his sentiments seemed to reflect a minority opinion amongst the current full-time residents of Sousse. According to conversations with them and my own observations, this community is extremely assimilated into Sousse’s society, demonstrated by the following: their knowledge of only Arabic and French (not Hebrew), my encounter with at least one Jewish man that speaks Classical Arabic, the social and non-religious behavior during the Saturday prayer service, the amount and closeness of real friendships with Muslims, and the fact that most of them do not keep Shabbat.

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