Thanks to enhanced food security and sustainable development for farming families, the Moroccan Muslim-Jewish initiative is generating goodwill, fostering social unity and encouraging further cultural preservation initiatives. That the farming communities themselves identi­fied fruit trees as a project priority, while also determining the varieties they preferred to grow has maximised the sense of solidarity and the measure of sustainability.

In so doing, the project is responding to the expressed needs of the people and helping to deliver the results they seek. This illustrates how social bene­fits are maximised when people’s participation is incorporated into the development-cultural process.

Moroccan Muslim and Jewish people come together on days of trees distribution, to talk about the initiative, thank all partners, and plan its future (photo: High Atlas Foundation)
Reinvigorating interfaith relationships: "the Moroccan Muslim-Jewish initiative is generating goodwill, fostering social unity and encouraging further cultural preservation initiatives. That the farming communities themselves identified fruit trees as a project priority, while also determining the varieties they preferred to grow has maximised the sense of solidarity and the measure of sustainability," writes Ben-Meir

"House of Life" pilot nursery near Marrakesh

In 2014, a pilot nursery on Jewish communal land was created near the village of Akrich, located in Al Haouz province south of Marrakesh, near the seven-hundred-year-old tomb of Rabbi Raphael Hacohen. In the past three years, 150,000 (33,000 in 2018) almond, ­fig, pomegranate, argan, carob and lemon seeds have been planted in the nursery and – once matured into saplings – transplanted to private plots. They are now being grown by approximately 1,000 farmers and 130 schools in Morocco, entirely for the growers’ benefi­t.

The pilot project’s cost of $60,000 was donated by Wahiba Estergard and Mike Gilliland, of Lucky’s Market and Jerry Hirsch with the Lodestar Foundation. Younes Al Bathaoui, the then governor of Al Haouz province, coined the Akrich nurseryʹs name – "House of Life" – after the name given to cemeteries in Hebrew. Jacky Kadoch, president of the Jewish Community of Marrakesh-Sa­fi, was instrumental in granting this land and other parcels for ten years, while the Secretary-General of the Jewish Community of Morocco, Serge Berdugo, enabled the vital expansion of this land-for-tree nursery project.

The ­first trees from the Akrich pilot site were handed to local children and farmers by the governor in 2016, joined by the U.S. ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco, Dwight Bush Sr.

A second nursery in Ourzazate

The proposed second nursery was located beside the thousand-year-old tomb of Rabbi David ou Moche, in the province of Ourzazate in January 2018. The project’s fi­rst year will see the construction of agricultural terraces. The new arable space will encompass one hectare, upon which will be grown, from 500,000 seeds, one-metre tall saplings of walnut, carob, fi­g, pomegranate, cherry and almond.

At maturity they will be donated to local associations, ­five thousand farming families and two thousand schools. Some trees will be dedicated to addressing devastating erosion afflicting the immediate area.

Together with local partners, the High Atlas Foundation will monitor tree growth as part of securing carbon credits, the revenue from which will be invested in further tree planting. Replication of nurseries across hundreds of parcels of land adjacent to cemetery sites throughout the country would generate tens of millions of saplings and plants every year and afford a better life to millions of people.

An initiative with international potential

The initiative is inspiring similar projects across the Middle East, with its combination of Muslim-Jewish collaboration and local-international and private-public partnerships. Although the Jewish community in Cairo these days numbers just six members, their strategic approach to preserving their ancient cemetery is to promote development within the local community.

Morocco’s intercultural nursery project has also been visited by Palestinian and Israeli groups and featured in the media – let us hope it provides a pathway toward productive and deepened intercultural collaboration.

Yossef Ben-Meir

© High Atlas Foundation 2018

This article is taken from a longer essay entitled "The Moroccan Approach: Integrating Cultural Preservation and Sustainable Development".

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Comments for this article: Muslim-Jewish goodwill blossoms in Morocco

A Celebration of Muslim-Jewish Amity Reborn In Israel
Rabbi Allen S. Maller

A traditional Moroccan celebration of Muslim-Jewish amity and friendship is being reborn in the State of Israel. The North African Jewish festival of Mimouna (pronounced Meehmuna), a 24-hour food centered festival, begins right after the week of Passover ends.

For many centuries Moroccan Jewish homes were purged of leavened bread during the week of Passover. At the end of Passover, Jews could eat bread and pastry, but they had no flour at all in their homes to bake with, until their Muslim neighbors came by to return the flour that the Jews had entrusted to them.

Ashdod resident Shaul Ben-Simhon, who immigrated to Israel in 1948 at age 18, said that in Morocco the holiday brought Jews and Muslims together each year. “Our home was open to everyone, including Arabs,” he said. Ben-Simhon recalled the tradition of Arab neighbors bringing flour to his home, so his mother and grandmother could make baked goods.

Usually, but not always, this was the same flour that Jews had given to their Muslim neighbors a day prior to the start of Passover, so Jews could rid their homes of leavened flour, prior to Passover. When, after the end of Passover, Arabs came to Jewish homes to return the flour, they were always invited to stay for a few hours and enjoy the soon to be baked goodies.

Thus, Jewish homes were filled with neighbors, friends and family exchanging traditional Arabic blessings of success ( some say that the name Mimouna derives from an Arabic word for “wealth” and “good luck”) while awaiting the laden trays of delicious Mimouna baked goods. The celebration often was repeated the next day with more pastry and joy.

In Israel unfortunately. for the first two decades of statehood, the festival was hardly marked at all. “In the early days of the state, we Moroccans were busy with absorption and working hard, often in construction. We didn’t have the energy or self-confidence to celebrate Mimouna,” said Ashdod resident Shaul Ben-Simhon.

That changed in 1968, when Ben-Simhon, now 38 and a high-ranking official at the Histadrut, Israel’s trade union alliance, organized a Mimouna celebration in Lod in a bid to help the integration of Moroccan immigrants into Israeli society. His effort to raise the community’s morale attracted 300 participants. The next year, Ben-Simhon moved the celebration to Jerusalem, got then-mayor Teddy Kollek's support, and managed to draw a crowd of 5,000.

This grew into a major celebration in Jerusalem's Sacher Park that today draws over 100, 000 people. This event inspired the revival of Mimouna across Israel, and usually includes the president and prime minister in the celebration.

Across the country, Moroccans and Israelis of all ethnic backgrounds flock to smaller public and private celebrations. A special law even requires bosses to grant employees unpaid leave on the day of Mimouna if they want to carry on celebrations from the previous evening.

Unfortunately, the Orthodox Rabbinical bureaucracy has arraigned for a formal “sale” of all the leavened flour in a city to a few Arab Muslims or Christians, so the much more personal, private “sale” to one's Arab neighbors rarely takes place in Israel.

Perhaps, a restoration of this part of the Passover tradition will help bring Jews and Arabs in Israel closer together. Ben-Simhon believes that Mimouna promotes unity between families and neighbors. (In Morocco, it was a day when people would visit each other to bury grudges.)

There are several theories regarding how the celebration got the name Mimouna. I think that it comes from a word that sounds similar to Mimouna (Amina in Arabic, Ahmina in Turkish, Emunah in Hebrew) all three of the words mean faith or trust.

Jews trusted their Muslim neighbors to guard the flour faithfully from becoming impure, and their Muslim neighbors always did so. Mimouna is thus a celebration of Jewish-Muslim amity, fellowship and good neighborliness.

One of the best parts of Mimouna for most people is the varied menu of baked goods. According to Elisheva Chetrit, a historian of Moroccan Jewry at Jerusalem’s Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, in Morocco the yearly celebration began with the eating of nuts, dates and dried fruit, as Muslims do when braking the daily fast during Ramadan.

Then Arabs neighbors would arrive with flour needed to prepare bread and pastry and the celebration would begin. Ari Hegnon, a self-described foodie says, “I’m Ashkenazi, (an East European Jew) and while there are many Moroccan-style restaurants, I feel it’s only on Mimouna, when every Moroccan that I know has their door open and their best home-cooking for me to try, that I get the real taste of this cuisine,”

Rabbi Allen S. ...22.09.2018 | 10:00 Uhr