Miracles Happen Here: In Morocco, A Vibrant Jewish Community
Born and raised in Morocco's Jewish community, Dorith Benmoha discusses the history, beauty, and strength of her community.
By Dorith Benmoha - JDC Coordinator | November 1, 2021
Dorith Benmoha was born and raised in Morocco’s Jewish community. When she was 18, Benmoha took a summer job at JDC, and four decades later, she’s still a Jointnik. In this post, Benmoha discusses the history, beauty, and strength of her community, as well as how JDC has helped to support Moroccan Jewry for more than 70 years.
Mimouna, the closing night of Passover, is the most well-known Moroccan-Jewish ceremony. It’s when we open our doors to visitors. On Mimouna night, all Jewish homes are illuminated, and anybody who wants to can enter and celebrate. That’s how I like to picture my community: bright and celebratory, open to anyone and everyone.
My community has been here over two millennia. Though many have left, going overseas to study and work in Paris, Israel, or elsewhere, something deep and powerful still ties us to this place and ties us together.
Our sense of heritage is strong — we have more than 630 Jewish pilgrimage sites in Morocco alone! — and we live alongside our Muslim neighbors, welcoming them into our lives. As a child, I attended class with Muslim students and had Muslim friends. I grew up embedded both in Jewish life and in the culture of my neighbors.
A lot has changed since then. In the 1950s, there were more than 250,000 Jews here in Morocco. We had a solid sense of identity, history, and community, but we lacked the institutions and infrastructure that a community needs to really thrive in the 20th century.
That’s where JDC stepped in. In partnership with local leaders, JDC helped us establish community centers, youth groups, medical facilities, educational programs, and social welfare initiatives. Because of this, I always say that JDC made us.
I can also say that, to some extent, JDC made me. Little did I know, when I started working for JDC at 18, that I’d still be here nearly 40 years later. What began as a summer job became my life’s work. Over the past four decades, I’ve seen firsthand the solidarity of the Jewish family, a family that spans continents. Whenever we have visitors, I feel blessed to meet Jews from all over the globe, people who care about my community. Because of JDC, I feel connected to a broader Jewish world. As a Moroccan Jew and a JDC staff member, I know I’m not alone.
Because of JDC, I feel connected to a broader Jewish world. As a Moroccan Jew and a JDC staff member, I know I’m not alone.
Many people ask, “How long do you think the Moroccan Jewish community will last?” I have been asked this question for the past 40 years. Yes, a community that was once 250,000 strong now has about 1,500. But numbers aren’t the point.
Just because someone has left doesn’t mean they sever ties with Jewish Morocco. It’s often the opposite. As the president of the Moroccan Jewish community says, “When we lose a Moroccan, we get an ambassador.” For example, if you go to Israel and visit the home of a Moroccan Jew, you’ll often find small reminders — pictures, objects, etc. — of their Moroccan-Jewish identity.
When I was in Jamaica, I stayed at a small hotel that belonged to a Moroccan Jew. As soon as I entered reception, I saw a picture of the Moroccan king. I wasn’t surprised: Moroccan Jews never forget their history, community, or country.
Though our history and culture bind us together, we’ve also faced great obstacles. The pandemic has tested our resilience. At first, each new day seemed to bring bad news — a new case, a new death. Almost two years into the pandemic, we’ve lost many people. Our community is small, and everyone feels each passing quite strongly. We lost people who were incredibly devoted to the community, people with young children. Nothing can replace them.
The whole time, JDC was there, helping us survive this crisis. The pandemic brought us not only personal loss, but financial loss, too. JDC gave cash assistance to families in dire need and continues to support them.
Each day, I was on the phone with my JDC colleagues around the world. I find it so meaningful to have played a key part in JDC’s work here for well over 40 years, because I know that we are saving lives.
We are a small community, but we are not a dying community. Indeed, Jewish life here is still vibrant, and I credit JDC for helping to keep it that way.
I look forward to the time when people from all across the world will visit us once again . They should come and learn about our existence, about our past and our present.
They should witness the miracles that happen here each day.
A passionate and lifelong member of Morocco’s Jewish community, Dorith Benmoha has worked with JDC her entire adult life, recently celebrating her 40th anniversary becoming a Jointnik.Benmoha now serves as a coordinator for the Moroccan Jewish community, where she works with local Jewish schools, facilitates elderly care, and coordinates with the JDC-supported Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE) medical clinic. She is also the proud mother of two children, born, raised, and educated in Morocco.