“Preserving and Reviving Morocco’s Jewish Past in Modern-day Marrakesh”

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    New York Jewish Travel Guide sat down with Kobi Ifrah co-founder of “Kulna” to ask a few questions about this nonprofit organization aimed at preserving and promoting Jewish Moroccan heritage in both Morocco and Israel.

    NYJTG: Can you share your background: where you are from, where your motivation and inspiration came from in choosing Marrakesh as your home, and why not any other cities in Morocco?

    Kobi Ifrach:   My parents are from Morocco. My mother, blessed in her memory, was from Marrakesh. My father, who is still alive, is from the city of Fes.

    At the age of 18, I took a trip to Morocco. The first time I arrived in the “Mellah” (Jewish quarter in Marrakesh), I immediately knew that this was going to be my home. This city is where my roots are and maybe my future.

    Twenty years later at the age of 33, I returned to Marrakesh to learn about a community that was 2,000 years old and on the verge of vanishing. That is the reason that I came back. 

    NYJTG: Explain your Moroccan Jewish heritage and your new connection to your roots, it sounds like a personal mission.

     Moroccan Jewish heritage has a very long and ancient history. For example, all of the world’s well-known, early Jewish Halachic leaders have passed through Morocco. From “Basa son of King Salomon until Rabenu Hushiel and Rabenu Hannael. Then Rabbi Elfas (הרב אלפס), Harabam, Rabbi Yehuda Koriehs (רבי יהודה קורייש) and the Aharonim like or Haim Hakadosh, Rabbi Elazar Halevi, Rabbi Refael Elnakka (רבי רפאל אלנקווה) and more.

    Unfortunately, in Israel, until today, there are many that don’t know about this powerful Jewish religious heritage and the Halachic world of the Moroccan Jews.

    My mission is to spread this knowledge to visitors. Morocco is not only amulets (קמעות) and the tombs of righteous people, but a full world of Judaism that contains Halachic ruling, Kabbalah, and more.

    NYJTG: Please tell us more about your association “Kulna”.

    Kobi Ifrach:  It is a home for the culture of Jews that come from Arab countries. The goal of Morocco “Kulna” is to preserve Jewish-Arab history in Morocco among Arabs of Morocco and Arab countries.  “Kulna” endeavors to inspire a connection between young Israelis and their Jewish heritage and identity. Our goal in Morocco is to help to strengthen the memories and the relationship between Morocco and the Jews in Israel, especially to influence Israeli society to strengthen her affinity to the spirit of Judaism that comes from Arab countries.

    Morocco “Kulna” has several programs in the local community, such as The Marrakesh Jewish Museum. Another project is to preserve the Jewish cemetery in Marrakesh and the Atlas Mountains. Other activities include Jewish education campaigns, local education programs, and community volunteer programs. We also have shared events between the local and Jewish communities along with a multi-religious center and other programs together to forge a connection between Jews and their heritage and between Jews and Muslims.

    New York Jewish Travel Guide – Photo: Tzachi Shemesh

    NYJTG: How have the Abraham Accords and the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Morocco helped to bridge and attract Israelis and Jews to Morocco?

    Kobi Ifrach: Throughout the 8 years that I have been in Marrakesh my goal has always been to build a bridge between Marrakesh and the city of Yeruham, a connection to the great spiritual world of Yeruham to the world of study that was in Marrakesh.

    The Abraham Accords help us to continue to spread these activities and promote the interfaith bridge that exists in Morocco between Jews and Muslims. The Abraham Accords also continue the historic Jewish connection with the Islamic world by fostering a positive relationship between Jews and Muslims, not only in Arab countries but with Jews worldwide.        

    NYJTG: What upcoming projects are you working on and how will you be able to implement them?

    Kobi Ifrach: At the moment our most important project is the rental of ‘Beit Kolna Marrakesh’

    The opening of a Jewish home will be a magnet for travelers from Israel and from around the world to receive a more meaningful connection to the spirit of Judaism. Of course, we will continue the activities for the preservation of ancient monuments and the renovation of synagogues.  It would be also a place for the reconstruction and scanning of Marrakesh archives, a study, and an emergency center for travelers on Saturdays and holidays.

    The second project is to create a first aid team for the residents of the Jewish Quarter (who are not Jews) and to teach the locals first aid for emergency medicine. We will be creating a special rescue team with scooters for the residents.

    Some background on our projects:

    The activity center is accessible to everyone and will serve as a central structure for all of Morocco-activity for a variety of cultural education. It will operate as a volunteer program in Marrakesh in collaboration with other volunteer organizations in Israel and around the world.

    House of Worship:

    The home will be a magnet for young people from Israel and around the world and will serve as a learning center for the heritage of Moroccan Jewry. In addition, this center will influence young people for their Jewish identity and the tradition of Beit Abba that exists in Moroccan Jewry.

    • A host and hospitable home, helps the Jewish visitor to feel at home.
    • A home that encourages embarking on an inner journey and a meaningful encounter with the past Jewish identity with an emphasis on the language of Moroccan Jewry and its abilities to accommodate a wide variety of people.

    Core activities:

    • Home for the Jewish Traveler (with an emphasis on Israelis)
    •  Hosting travelers for Shabbat and holiday meals in a homely and welcoming atmosphere.
    • Access to Jewish information for visitors to the city.
    • Unique study sessions by artists and intellectuals.

    Significant Jewish tourism – activities that encourage connection to the heritage – tours, workshops, discussion evenings, evenings of study, and volunteering in the community.

    • Center for the Study of Jewish-Arab Heritage and Culture and for the Cultivation of Relations between Nations – Holding workshops, lectures, conferences on the subject, performances, and master classes.
    • Volunteer Center and Operation of Kulna Volunteers – Long-term and short-term volunteer programs, with the aim of contributing to the preservation of the Jewish heritage in Morocco.
    • Organizing and issuing joint delegations of Morocco and Israel for the benefit of strengthening relations between the countries and their peoples.

    New York Jewish Travel Guide – Photo: Tzachi Shemesh

    NYJTG: Do you eventually have plans to return to Israel? If you go back, what will you have learned or have brought back from your experience in Morocco in your interaction with Israelis?

    Kobi Ifrach: Israel is the home where I was born and grew up. At the moment that we will need Jewish education, we will go back to Israel. However, we intend to stay in constant contact with what is happening here, and we will promote the organization in Israel.

    We will continue to create programs that promote Jewish identity, Jewish learning and Torah. This will be the case, especially with Jews from Islamic countries which have the message of a very comfortable community. We want to transfer this message to the next generation.

    NYJTG: Thank you, Kobi, for your time and for all the information you shared with us.  We really appreciated it as well as our readers.

    If you enjoyed this post, please take a moment to share it online with your social media followers!

    For more information:

    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/

    Story by Meyer Harroch  – New York Jewish Travel Guide & New York  Jewish Guide.com

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

     

     

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