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April 1, 2015 / 12 Nisan, 5775
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One Woman’s Journey from Morocco to Israel

Once Moroccans rose up against the French in their struggle for independence, the situation dramatically deteriorated for Moroccan Jews
Cafe de la Poste, Gueliz, Marrakech, Morocco.

Cafe de la Poste, Gueliz, Marrakech, Morocco.

Flora Cohen presently lives in Nahariyya, Israel. She has three children and 16 grandchildren. However, she was born and raised in Casablanca, Morocco. Flora was born and spent her childhood living under French colonial rule. Under French rule, Flora claims that Morocco was a modern European state, full of cafés. However, in other respects, the Moroccans did not enjoy the same opportunities that the Europeans did. Living as part of the Jewish minority there was not easy, since being a Jew was a dirty word both in French and Arabic.

While the situation on the whole was tolerable when the French were still in control of Morocco, Flora does not believe the situation was good in retrospect. Flora recalled that not every one was permitted to attend school; that required having the right connections. In her family, all of the boys managed to go to school, yet out of all of the girls in her family, only she was able to go to school. One of her sisters tried to go to school, yet was continuously rejected and thus was forced instead to go to a vocational school where she learned how to sew, instead of learning how to read and write.

Kindergartens only existed for the very rich and women thus had to stay at home to raise the children, despite the fact that it was very difficult to finance having nine to ten children without the woman working. Eighty percent of the students in Morocco were forced to quit their studying following the 8th grade because their families needed them to work for financial reasons. Flora blames the French for this, since they were the ones in control of the country, not the Arabs.

While the French were still in control, Jews were able to coexist for the most part with Arabs peacefully. Flora knew Arabs in her area who were very good people and got along with the Jews well. But there still were incidents.

Flora’s grandfather and his brother were murdered by Arabs, thus leaving her grandmother a widow with two children. The family wasn’t even able to retrieve the bodies for a proper Jewish burial. In June 1948, bloody riots erupted in Oujda and Djerada, resulting in the death of 44 Moroccan Jews while many more were wounded. An unofficial boycott was initiated against the Moroccan Jewish community that same year. Eighteen thousand Moroccan Jews went to Israel during that period. But since the situation was still not as bad as in other Arab countries thanks to the French, most of the Jews stayed in Morocco a bit longer than in other Arab states.

Nevertheless, it was a common practice in Morocco for some Muslims to abduct young virgin Jewish girls, forcefully convert them to Islam, and to make them marry Muslims. Indeed, one of Flora’s relatives suffered this fate and thus did not come to Israel from Morocco with the rest of the family. In addition, Flora mentioned that one woman from Fez also was going to be forced to marry a Muslim and she decided to commit suicide rather than endure this fate. Many Moroccan Jews who participate in Jewish heritage trips to Morocco visit her grave. For this reason, Jewish girls were married off at a very early age, in order to avoid that horrible fate. This had the negative effect of inhibiting the development of Moroccan Jewish women.

Once Moroccans rose up against the French in their struggle for independence, the situation dramatically deteriorated for Moroccan Jews. Terrorism was widespread within the country and Jews were also the victims of such violence, not just the French, since the Jews supported the French. Flora claimed that the situation in Morocco was very much similar to the situation in Israel during the Second Intifada. There were explosions everywhere. Supermarkets were blowing up. People were scared to go out.

Flora said that her brother was almost murdered by Arabs, but that another Arab saved his life by lying and claiming that he was an Arab Muslim from Fez. Soon after this incident, the family decided that they had to leave Morocco and make Aliyah to Israel, even though they weren’t allowed to bring more things with them than what could fit into just one suitcase. This is when most of the Jews in Morocco made Aliyah to Israel.

It took time for her family to leave the country. They spent two months stranded in a special camp in Casablanca, before they were permitted to leave. In August 1956, Flora and her family were able to fly to France, where they were forced to stay for another month before they were permitted to move to Israel. When they arrived in Israel, they were placed on trucks and taken to Moshav Barak. In the moshav, there were no paved roads and no indoor bathrooms. Since they were assigned to create the moshav, they had to do much physical labor. It took a couple of years for her family to get established, yet in the end, her life significantly improved upon making Aliyah to Israel. 

In the moshav, her family had a house and was treated with dignity. The Ashkenazim and Mizrahim got along well together. She was very happy to come to Israel. In the end, she married an IDF soldier and raised her family near Haifa, before moving into a bigger house in Nahariyya. She reports that she is very happy with her decision to come to Israel.

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About the Author: Rachel Avraham is a news editor and political analyst for Jerusalem Online News, the English language internet edition of Israel's Channel 2 News. She completed her masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Ben-Gurion University. The subject of her MA thesis was: "Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab media."


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6 Responses to “One Woman’s Journey from Morocco to Israel”

  1. Howard Borman says:

    Interesting story about the Moroccan Jews.

  2. The French allowed all Jews to go to School but the Arabs and I believe it was because of their clothing. I was born in Casablanca I had 4 older sisters and 3 older brothers and they were all educated in Morocco, and the riots with the Muslims started with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, and for a very long time before 48 Morocco was the only Arab country that treated the Jews better than most other Arab states.

  3. Aicha Gharbal says:

    This seems to be a bit bais…From what I know, Morocco was the only place on earth that treated the Jews with respect and equality.This concept of forcing jews to get married to muslims is also incorrect, it sounds off, something that is common to the middle east, not Morocco…clearly this article was written to convince more people to join the zionist state of Israel?

  4. Anonymous says:

    I'm afraid that I find this article rather biased. I'm British, Christian, married into a Spanish family. They are all in their 60s and they and all they friends were brought up and educated in the town of Tangier. Many were born there but opted for the nationality of their parents, Spanish, although practically all opted for a French education. The comment "Jew was a dirty word both in French and Arabic" is rejected by all as not coinciding with the situation as it was in Tangier. Many of them owned businesses and were acquainted with Jews, fellow business owners.
    All left Tangier in the 1960s when the program of "arabisation" started to make it difficult to work there. They says that some of the claims of bias that Rachel claims, applied equally to men and women, Jews & non-Jews, for example the need for "connections". That way of working was deeply ingrained in both the French and Spanish way of life, (and still is), and it would have been strange if the Moroccans had not learned from their occupiers. One comment by Rachel left me open mouthed, "it was very difficult to finance having nine to ten children without the woman working" Surely the way forward in the circumstances was to not have nine to ten children".

    I'm very familiar with the area of Stamford Hill in North London where huge numbers of Jews live in peace with people from over a hundred different nations.
    Whilst it's rare that there is any trouble there I still feel facer walking the streets of Tangier, day and night, than the streets of London. Whilst, in recent years, there have been two isolated terrorist attacks, one in Casablanca and the other in Marrakech, it's true to say that in Morocco you're safer than in most large European and American towns. Tangier is a melting pot of Arabs, Christians and Jews all living in peace. If anyone says otherwise they're not telling it as it is.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Boshra Gharbal Guilford,
    I would say yes, really.

Comments are closed.

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