Jewish Pilgrimage in Safi – A Lesson on Tolerance

At one point in its history, Morocco was home to around 300,000 Jews and many Moroccans continue to embrace their Judeo-Moroccan heritage, as is evident by the hundreds of Jewish pilgrims who recently gathered in the Moroccan coastal town of Safi and were welcomed by local Muslims. With religious tensions reaching fever pitch in Jerusalem and other areas, this attitude of tolerance and acceptance, with Muslims and Jews praying together, is something out of the ordinary.

More than 400 Jews joined in the weekend pilgrimage, with some traveling from nearby cities, while others traveled from as far away as France, America, Canada and Israel. The pilgrimage festivities began on the Friday, with visitors praying and feasting around the shrine of Rabbi Abraham Ben Zmirro who was believed to have fled from persecution in Spain during the 15th century. This well respected Rabbi lived out the remainder of his days in Safi, and was buried there along with six siblings. During the banquet, a band consisting of Jewish and Muslim musicians played local traditional music. Reflecting the prevailing attitude of tolerance, one of the songs which were sung in Arabic, French and Hebrew acknowledges that there is only one God, but some worship him sitting down, while others worship standing up and both are acceptable.

On Sunday, Morocco’s great Rabbi, Aaron Monsenego, prayed at the shrine’s synagogue alongside the regional governor and other officials. Included in the prayer was a request for the good health of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, as well as his family. Many agree that this event could serve as a good lesson on religious tolerance to other countries.

Despite the fact that Morocco is tolerant of religious differences, the resident Jewish population has dwindled to about 4,000, most of whom live in Casablanca. Fueled by fears of living in an Arab state or for financial reasons, the past few decades have seen a steady departure of Jews who have moved to Israel, America or Europe. Nonetheless, there are still 32 active synagogues in Casablanca alone, and Jews who have remained in Morocco practice their religion freely.

Many of the Jewish pilgrims once lived in Morocco and participate in the pilgrimage because of their deep emotional ties to the country. One of the Israeli pilgrims who makes the pilgrimage every two years put it this way: “This is the town where I grew up, the synagogue where I prayed. I feel at home.”