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.