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Mhamid El Ghozlan

(307 words)

Author(s): Sarah Frances Levin
Mḥamid El Ghozlan (Ar. Maḥāmīd al-Ghazlān) is the southernmost oasis of the Draa (Ar. Darʿa) Valley of Morocco, located where the Draa riverbed bends southwest toward the Atlantic Ocean. It is situated on what was once a direct route to Timbuktu and long served as an important staging point for the trans-Saharan trade. Mḥamid has historically been populated by diverse sub-Saharan African groups, Jews, and Berber- and Arabic-speaking tribes. There is no evidence confirming legends of an ancient Jewish kingdom in the Draa, but the Jewish presence in Mḥamid El Ghozl…

Harrus, Elias

(433 words)

Author(s): Sarah Frances Levin
A prominent leader of the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) educational network in Morocco, Elias Harrus was born September 19, 1919, in Beni Mellal, Morocco. He was formally trained in pedagogy and agriculture in France and Algeria. After serving as director of the AIU school in Demnat from 1940 to 1945, he became director of the AIU’s École Professionelle Agricole in Marrakesh in 1946. He continued in this post until 1958, but at the same time was also responsible for founding and supervising AIU schools throughout the Atlas Mountains and the Saharan oases. His photographs of the Ber…


(860 words)

Author(s): Sarah Frances Levin
Demnat (Ar. Damnāt; Fr. Demnate) is a walled town in the foothills of Morocco’s central High Atlas Mountains with an important weekly market for the entire region and beyond. Located at the crossroads of trade routes connecting Marrakesh,  88 kilometers (55 miles) to the west, to Fez, and the Atlantic plains to the pre-Saharan regions, in a fertile, intensively cultivated region with extensive olive groves, it was favorably situated for commercial exchanges. Demnat is famous for its grapes and the excellent wines once produced by its Jewish residents. The origins of…


(427 words)

Author(s): Sarah Frances Levin
Tahala (Tahāla) is an agglomeration of small villages in the Ammeln Valley in Morocco’s Anti-Atlas, in the Berber-speaking region (Tashelḥit dialect) called the Sous (Sūs). The exact origins of its Jewish community are unknown. Historical accounts hold that by the late fifteenth century there was a mellah (Ar. mallāḥ ), or Jewish quarter, in Tizi n’Aoussift (one of Tahala’s villages), probably founded by Jews from neighboring areas. Neither the villages nor the mellah of Tahala were walled. The Jewish population was estimated at 750 at the end…

Assidon, Sion

(209 words)

Author(s): Sarah Frances Levin
Together with Abraham Serfaty, Sion Assidon is one of Morocco’s most prominent Jewish left-wing activists. Born in Agadir in 1948, he was arrested in 1972 as a member of a student group campaigning for democracy, charged with the crime of possessing anti-regime leaflets. He was sentenced to fifteen years, but the attention brought to his case by Amnesty International as a nonviolent “prisoner of conscience” contributed to his release by royal pardon in 1984. A mathematician by training and a businessman by profession, Assidon was founding secretary general of Transparency Maroc, …

Rouche, Isaac (Ishaq)

(228 words)

Author(s): Sarah Frances Levin
Born in Tlemcen, Algeria, in 1906, Isaac Rouche was assistant chief rabbi of Oran, and teacher and mentor of a circle of Jewish intellectuals dismissed from their jobs by the Vichy government in the early 1940s. Serving as chief chaplain of Jewish North African volunteers and as a captain in the French army, Rouche went to Morocco in 1943. There he worked with Reuben Tajouri, Samuel-Daniel Levy, and Jules Braunschvig of the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) and a team of his disciples reunited from Oran to found the Ecole Normale Hebraïque in Casablanca, a secondary and teacher-…

Beni Mellal

(377 words)

Author(s): Sarah Frances Levin
Beni Mellal, a town in central Morocco on the road between Fez and Marrakesh, sits in the foothills of the Middle Atlas Mountains in the agriculturally rich Tadla region, irrigated by abundant springs. It has long been an important market center. Its population is a mix of Berber-speakers descended from the mountains and Arabic-speakers from the plains. It is unknown whether there was a Jewish community in 1688, when Mawlāy Ismāʿīl founded the qaṣba (walled town). In the 1880s, Charles de Foucauld noted three hundred Jews out of a total population of about three thousand, …