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December 23, 2010 4:00 am

Celebration of Culture and History Highlights ASF Dinner

avatar by Maxine Dovere

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Rabbi Hakham David Messas, Chief Rabbi of Paris, who is of Moroccan Jewish heritage with The Hon. Serge Bergudo, Ambassador-At-Large, prepare for brahot. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

At its annual Gala, held at The Pierre Hotel in New York City December 13, 2010, the American Sephardi Federation (ASF) celebrated the long, rich and productive history of the Moroccan Jewish community, and announced the establishment of the Resource Center for Moroccan Jewish Heritage. A yearlong program commemorating the 2000 years history of the Jewish community, and including cultural exhibitions, concerts, film festival, symposium and a tour of Morocco will be developed under the High Patronage of His Majesty Mohammed VI, King of Morocco.  On behalf of the King, Serge Berdugo, Moroccan Ambassador-At-Large, and a member of the Jewish community, accepted the symbolic honor designed by sculptor Oded Halachmy.

Dinner honorees included Florence Amzallag Tatistcheff, Carlos Benaim, who created a limited edition perfume to honor the event, and Norman Benzaquen.  The Honorable Marc C. Ginsberg, first Jew to be appointed as a U.S. Ambassador to an Arab country – Morocco – was keynote speaker.  During his speech, Ginzberg had the sad task of announcing the death of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, for whom a moment of silence was held.

The Jewish community in Morocco is believed to have had its beginnings shortly after the destruction of the Second Temple, and has been an integral part of the country prior to the Arab dominance of the country during the 7thCentury.  The community included merchants, scholars and thinkers, members of the government, as well as representatives of the government to European countries.  Although the Jewish population of Morocco has dwindled from 300,000 prior to the establishment of the State of Israel to just under 6,000, dress of the evening reflected the Moroccan heritage of many attendees.

Keynote Speaker, Hon. Marc C. Ginsberg, former Ambassador to Morocco, recalled a warm and strong attachment to Morocco. Displayed behind him is a portrait of Mohammed V1, King of Morocco. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

Throughout the twentieth century the kings of Morocco have been pro west and generally, have protected the Jewish community.  King Mohammed V significantly defied the Vichy regime of France during World War II, including inviting Rabbis of the community to public affairs.  Mohammed VI, the current king, has not only acknowledged the horrors of the Holocaust, but stated that it was “one of the most tragic chapters in modern history.  His active, public support of the Resource Center and the Jewish community is quite notable, especially in the face of the level of current anti Israel rhetoric.  In the King’s words, “I have been very impressed by the rich diversity” and “the vibrancy of Moroccan Jewish life, its past, its present and its future. I want to thank you for your dedication and confirm that the Kingdom of Morocco will follow and sustain your efforts.”

The American Sephardi Federation, ASF, takes as its mission “To promote and preserve the spiritual, historical, cultural and social traditions of all Sephardic communities as an integral part of Jewish heritage;  To ensure the continuation of the Sephardic legacy, heritage and traditions through educational programs and archival preservation; To advocate for Sephardic Communities around the world and foster strong lines of communication between them and the American Sephardic community; to celebrate the contributions of Sephardic culture. Sephardic interaction with other American Jewish communal organizations; to be the central address for Sephardim in America; to educate about the legacy and traditions of the Sephardic people -To further the rights and claims of Jewish Refugees from Muslim Countries.

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