Discover the Jewish Heritage and Beauty of Tangier

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    Tangier is a captivating fusion of North Africa, Spain, Portugal, and France, making it a true crossroads of cultures with a rich Jewish heritage. This enchanting city, just a 35-minute hydrofoil ride from Spain or a two-hour ferry journey, embraces diversity with a predominantly Muslim population and thriving Christian and Jewish communities living in harmony.

    In the 1950s, Tangier held a unique allure for artists and writers from America and Europe, serving as both a destination and a refuge. Shaped by its maritime essence, this coastal city beckoned literary giants such as Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams, and Truman Capote. It also beckoned celebrated authors, poets, and artists, including Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Brion Gysin, as well as renowned painters like Eugene Delacroix and Henri Matisse.

    Tangier’s cultural fabric is deeply woven with the threads of Judaism, as Jewish settlers originally found their way here after the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. Today, the Jewish community in Tangier comprises around 60 individuals, a significant decline from its peak at 22,000, with many members having relocated to places such as Canada, Lisbon, and New York.

    Tangier: A New York Jewish Travel Guide

    The Al Boraq stands as Africa’s pioneering superfast bullet train, tracing a 200-kilometer route along the picturesque Atlantic coast, connecting the bustling port of Tangier to the vibrant commercial center of Casablanca. These high-speed marvels, boasting double-decker carriages, whisk travelers away at a breathtaking speed of 320 kilometers per hour (200 mph), completing the journey to Tangier in just around two hours and 10 minutes. With a generous capacity of 533 passengers, the Al Boraq promises a seamless travel experience.

    Inside, the Moroccan-inspired decor dazzles with art deco lamps and commodious seats arranged in a face-to-face configuration, all adorned in sumptuous red upholstery. Ample luggage racks provide convenient storage, and informative signs keep passengers informed of both regular and high-speed train schedules. The generously proportioned tables accompanying the seats offer far more space than you’d typically find on an airplane. Exciting plans are afoot to expand the service to include major tourist destinations like Agadir and Marrakech.

    Al-Boraq, a 323-kilometer-long high-speed rail service between Casablanca and Tangier—New York Jewish Travel Guide

    Moise Nahon Synagogue

    Once upon a time, Tangier boasted a vibrant tapestry of more than 20 synagogues. The Nahon Synagogue, affectionately known as “Masat Moshe,” stands as a captivating window into this historical legacy. Nestled in Rue Synagogue within the heart of Medina, this synagogue was brought to life during the 19th century through the vision of Moise Nahon, a distinguished educator and scholar hailing from a renowned Jewish lineage.

    As the years passed, the synagogue’s doors closed, and its echoes grew faint in the latter half of the 20th century. Neglect and time took their toll until the pivotal year of 1994 when dedicated efforts led to its meticulous restoration. Today, this once-silent space has been reimagined and rejuvenated, serving as a captivating museum that preserves the rich heritage of the Nahon Synagogue for all to explore and appreciate.

    View of the Ark: The Nahon Synagogue, New York Jewish Travel Guide

    The prayer room is easily accessed through a quaint courtyard located at the far end of the entrance corridor. As you step inside, you’re welcomed into a meticulously preserved interior that exudes a sense of grace and tradition. The space is adorned with exquisite silver candelabras and lamps, all designed in the elegant Andalusian style. The centerpiece of this sanctuary is an awe-inspiring wooden Torah ark, its surfaces adorned with intricate Hebrew calligraphy. Hanging gracefully from the high-reaching ceiling are a series of resplendent silver chandeliers, each serving as a timeless tribute. Former congregants have shown their deep devotion by generously donating these chandeliers as a heartfelt tribute, a poignant way to honor the memory of their departed loved ones.

    Above, an upper gallery serves as a captivating exhibition space for an array of cherished Jewish artifacts. Here, the community’s Ketubas, tapestries, wedding agreements, and painstakingly crafted embroidery are on display, offering a vivid glimpse into the traditions and heritage of this vibrant congregation. Of note is the striking Arabic calligraphy adorning the walls, repeated in three medallions, gracefully aligned vertically beneath the lofty ceiling. Below this splendid decoration, the lower section of the wall is adorned with intricately carved rectangular wooden panels.

    In the heart of the prayer hall, a striking revelation awaits: the ceiling is adorned with its own intricate artistic details. At its pinnacle, a grand skylight serves as the room’s crowning glory, allowing an abundance of natural light to bathe the space. In contemporary times, this synagogue has transitioned into a venue reserved for joyous celebrations, including anniversaries, bar and bat mitzvahs, and other cherished occasions.

    The Nahon Synagogue: Interior View from the Bima, New York Jewish Travel Guide

     

    Suspended lamp from the second floor, Nahon Synagogue, New York Jewish Travel Guide

    Among the two synagogues nestled within the Medina, the smaller of the two, Synagogue Rabbi Akiba, was originally built during the mid-19th century and later underwent a meticulous reconstruction in 1912. In recent times, this historic place of worship has been transformed into a museum dedicated to illuminating the rich tapestry of Tangier’s Jewish heritage.

    View of the synagogue’s interior from the women’s balcony, Synagogue Rabbi Akiba – New York Jewish Travel Guide

    Chaar Rafael stands as one of the last remaining synagogues, a poignant testament to Tangier’s enduring Jewish heritage. Nestled on 27 Boulevard Pasteur in the newer part of the city, this villa, originally owned by a Jewish family, was constructed in 1919. It took on its role as a synagogue in 1954, following the passing of its owner, Raphael Bendriahm.

    The synagogue is currently under the guidance of Rabbi Jacob Tordgman, who has been an integral part of the community for a decade. Remarkably, Rabbi Tordgman is not only a spiritual leader but also a practicing lawyer, fluent in French and Arabic. He added Spanish to his repertoire to better connect with his congregants.

    In the present day, Shabbat services at Chaar Rafael draw a modest attendance of 10 to 15 worshippers. However, during the High Holidays, the synagogue experiences an influx of tourists and visitors, further underscoring its significance as a living historical landmark.

    Detail view of a suspended lamp from the second floor—The Chaar Rafael—New York Jewish Travel Guide

    Tangier Cemetery: Beth Hahayim

    The Jewish Cemetery in Tangier, often referred to as the “old cemetery,” has a storied history dating back to the 1910s. This sacred ground is home to approximately 1,000 graves, predominantly marked by pristine white stones, with some of them bearing inscriptions that trace their origins to as far back as the 16th century. Among the resting souls are many righteous individuals.

    Under the custodianship of the Tangier municipality, the Jewish Cemetery rests just beyond the ancient walls of the Medina, extending a warm invitation to the public to wander through its sacred precincts. Caretakers are entrusted with its maintenance and preservation. Over the years, the cemetery has faced challenges from a combination of erosion and water-related issues. However, to facilitate access for those interested, the inscriptions on the tombstones have been digitized, enabling individuals to locate specific gravesites online.

    The tombstones themselves bear inscriptions in various languages, including Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese, and French, reflecting the diverse heritage of those interred here. While the most recent burials date back to the period between 1935 and 1940, the Tangier Cemetery continues to serve as a poignant testament to the enduring memory of a vibrant and diverse Jewish community.

    Beith Hahayim Cemeterie- Tanger – New York Jewish Travel Guide

    The Tangier American Legation Museum, situated amidst the vibrant atmosphere of the Medina, imparts a unique and foreign ambiance to the city. Housed within an elegant five-story mansion, this museum holds remarkable historical significance, notably playing a pivotal role in the Allied landings in North Africa during World War II, known as Operation Torch.

    During this critical period, J. Rives Childs, the head of the U.S. legation, demonstrated extraordinary humanitarian efforts by aiding 1,200 Hungarian Jews in escaping the horrors of the Holocaust through the issuance of visas to Spanish Morocco. In recognition of his exceptional service, President Harry Truman bestowed upon Childs the Medal of Freedom in 1946.

    Interestingly, Morocco holds the distinction of being the first nation to officially recognize the United States as an independent nation following the Revolutionary War. The Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies, commonly referred to as TALIM, holds a distinctive position as the sole U.S. historic landmark situated on foreign soil. It bears the distinction of being the first property ever owned by the U.S. government abroad, making it an emblem of enduring American history and engagement beyond its borders. This historic building, originally gifted to the United States by Sultan Moulay Suleiman of Morocco in 1821, initially served as the U.S. consulate and has since stood as a symbol of enduring American engagement with the Muslim world.

     American Legation Museum, Tangier—New York Jewish Travel Guide

    American Legation Museum, Tangier—New York Jewish Travel Guide

    The museum also boasts a remarkable collection of paintings that offer a captivating glimpse into Tangier’s history as seen through the eyes of its artists. Particularly noteworthy is the painting by Scottish artist James McBey, portraying his servant girl, Zohra, a piece often likened to the Moroccan Mona Lisa.

    Visitors can also explore a cozy bookshop and a dedicated wing honoring the American author, Paul Bowles. An undiscovered treasure lies in the form of a temporary exhibit titled “Customs and Costumes of Sephardic Morocco,” showcasing a private collection of Berber and Jewish artifacts, including exquisite bridal gowns and dresses once worn by Sophia Cohen Azagury.

    TALIM additionally houses an impressive 8,000-volume research library, which not only serves as a valuable academic resource but also hosts a longstanding women’s literacy program. Furthermore, there are plans to expand the provision of English language lessons to benefit local children and students, further enriching the institute’s role within the community.

    A private collection of Berber and Jewish artifacts and bridal gowns and dresses is on display at the Tangier American Legation, New York Jewish Travel Guide.

    For more information, visit:

    To plan a trip to Morocco, contact the Moroccan National Tourist Office or log on to http://www.visitmorocco.com/en.

    Fly Royal Air Morocco: https://www.royalairmaroc.com/us-en/

    Ride with Train Al Boraq, a high-speed rail service between Casablanca and Tangier. https://myticketservices.com/tgv-morocco-al-boraq-high-speed-train-e-tickets/

    Story and photography by Meyer Harroch, New York Jewish Travel Guide, and New York Jewish Guide.com

    The author took part in a press trip sponsored by the Moroccan National Tourist Office.

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