Casablanca, Morocco’s Jewish Community Reports 3 COVID-19 Deaths

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(1949) Tagounit Beni Sbih, Nothern Sahara. Rabbi Yacov Benhamou, representative of the Jewish community there. Credit: Rosalee Schwartz

Morocco’s Jewish community experienced a great loss at the end of March 2020 when three of Casablanca’s revered members passed away as the result of the COVID-19 Virus. Ari Peretz (52), a businessman and philanthropist and businessman Michel Tourgeman (62) are thought to have contracted the virus after attending a large wedding in Agadir a few weeks prior. Peretz’s mother, Simone (75), who likely became ill by contact with her son, also passed away recently. At this time, few tests have been conducted therefore it is still unclear how many other wedding guests may be infected.

Since 1948 when Israel became a state, Morocco’s Jewish community has dwindled down to a small number of fewer than 3,000 members. Fearing for the small Jewish community, an anonymous Jewish millionaire has offered to fund testing for members. As of April 4, 2020, Morocco’s total of cases is reported to have reached 858 by the Moroccan Ministry of Health. In the Jewish community, 16 cases have been confirmed.

Although the spread of COVID-19 is still under control compared to in other countries, in an interview with the Times of Israel, one Casablanca local shared that “everyone’s under lockdown..and afraid.” To prevent a wider spread, Morocco declared a public health state of emergency since March 16, 2020, at 6 pm.

While Morocco’s Jewish community is small, it is still vibrant and strong. The Jews have inhabited the kingdom since the 8th century alongside the Berbers (Amazigh). Thousands of them return to Morocco every year to celebrate Passover and Rosh Hashanah, celebrate weddings and B’nai mitzvah, and discover Morocco’s Jewish heritage. For the past ten years, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI opened up several projects to restore the country’s Jewish Moroccan sites, museums, and medinas.

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