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February 15, 2013 12:57 am

Morocco Restores Ancient Synagogue in Nod to Jewish Heritage

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The old Jewish quarters in Essaouira, Morocco. Photo: World Imaging/Wikimedia Commons.

Morocco held a ceremony on Wednesday to inaugurate the completion of renovations to an ancient Jewish synagogue in the historic city of Fez.

The two-year restoration of the Slat al-Fassiyine (Prayer of the Fesians) synagogue was part-financed by Germany. The ceremony included Morocco’s Islamist prime minister, Abdelilah Benkirane, as well as German parliament speaker Norbert Lammert, according to Global Post.

In addition, a Jewish former Moroccan Minster Serge Berdugo spoke as well. Israel and Morocco do not have formal diplomatic relations.

The restoration of the ancient synagogue in Fez, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is part of a larger effort by Morocco to come to terms with its Jewish community.  The new constitution that was adopted in 2011 amid the Arab Spring recognized Morocco’s Jewish heritage.

“As is enshrined in the Kingdom’s new Constitution, the Hebrew heritage is indeed one of the time-honored components of our national identity,” read King Mohammed VI’s message to the inauguration ceremony, Agence Marocaine De Presse (MAP) reported.

The King added that he wishes for the restoration of all synagogues in Moroccan cities so that they can “serve as places of worship…and as forums for cultural dialogue.”

Morocco was home to over 250,000 Jews during the first half of the 20th century. But amid the establishment of Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict, many Jews fled or were forced from their homes throughout the Middle East. Today, Morocco’s Jewish community is estimated to be around 3,000.

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