The Shmooze

My Night With King Mohammed VI

By Jeremiah Lockwood

  • Print
  • Share Share
Photo: Elliot Moscowitz, Courtesy of the ASF
Some honored attendees included (left to right): The Honorable Fernando Villalonga, Consul General, Consulate General of Spain in New York; Mr. Carlos Benaim; Leon Levy Leadership Award Recipient; Dany Devico Moyal; Dinner Committee Chair; Wassane Zailachi, Deputy Chief of Mission - Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco in Washington, D.C.; David E.R. Dangoor, ASF President; Florence Amzallag Tatistcheff; Leon Levy Leadership Award Recipient, ASF Board of Directors; Norman S. Benzaquen; Leon Levy Leadership Award Recipient; The Hon. Serge Berdugo; Ambassador at Large of H.M. the King of Morocco; The Hon. Mohamed Karmoune, Consul General, Kingdom of Morocco Consulate General in New York; The Hon. Marc C. Ginsberg, former Ambassador to Morocco; Rabbi David Messas, Chief Rabbi of Paris

It was bound to be a bizarre experience for me. Instead of rolling through my modest Brooklyn neighborhood, I was going to the fancy Pierre Hotel to sit in a room full of New York City’s elite. If you are not accustomed to the rigors of society life, a tableau of rich folk dolled up for a night out is both intimidating and comic. The fact that the reception on the evening of December 13 was being given by the American Sephardic Foundation in honor of King Mohammed VI of Morocco only added layers to the strangeness of my situation.

Distinguished guest after distinguished guest stood at the podium as wine was poured for the assembled party, and effusive words were spoken in praise of King Mohammed. There was a definite charm, even a relief, in hearing a room full of Jews applauding a Muslim monarch and paying homage to his wisdom and beneficence to the Jewish community. The evening had a feeling of the middle ages: the era of court Jews and royal indulgences. The King’s award was accepted by Serge Berdugo, an ambassador and a descendant of a family of Jewish royal advisors to the Moroccan throne.

Berdugo’s praise of the King and the royal commitment to the equality of his Jewish subjects was warm and engaging. He also spoke about the vibrancy of the contemporary Jewish community in Morocco. Many of the speakers drew attention to King Mohammed’s remarks in a speech last year in which he spoke of the Holocaust as “a wound to the collective memory” and as “one of the most painful chapters in the collective memory of mankind.” It is of course remarkable to hear the leader of a Muslim country using this kind of language in the contemporary landscape where delegitimizing the memory of the Holocaust has become a grotesque political tool.

This praise, and the strength of the King’s patronage of the Jews, made me wonder why a million Moroccan Jews live in Israel, France or the United States with only a few thousand remaining in Morocco. The historical record shows that Jews in Morocco in the chaotic years after independence in 1956 were scapegoated and victimized by the majority population. The Jews left Morocco in desperate haste. While the royal attitude towards the Jews is admirable, the reality of life in Morocco for its Jews has been fraught with trials.

The current attitude of the Moroccan government to its minorities is also a complicated issue. The Moroccan military recently engaged in a strong-armed suppression of protests by the Sahrawi people, a formerly nomadic Berber tribe without a homeland, who are caught in a cold war between Morocco and neighboring Algeria. While many sovereign nations use their power in questionable ways, this recent outburst of violence brings up painful memories of the situation in Morroco for its Jews in the years after independence.

At the reception, I had an opportunity to speak with Marc Charles Ginsberg, the former US Ambassador to Morocco and the first Jewish American appointed as a diplomat to an Arab nation. I asked him if he felt that Jews have a special responsibility to take concern with the treatment of minorities in Morocco. Ambassador Ginsberg politely brushed my question aside with the political non sequitur that Berber minorities are treated much better in Morocco than by neighboring governments.

Still, there is much to celebrate about Morocco and about Moroccan Jewish history and culture. The American Sephardic Federation and the Center for Jewish History are undertaking a variety of cultural presentations over the course of the next year, including some concerts and an intriguing sounding evening with a tableau vivant of traditional Moroccan wedding scenes. Of course, any opportunity to work with those members of the Muslim world who are receptive to Jewish culture should be taken. And, especially if it provides a chance for American Jews to engage with the riches of Moroccan culture.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Serge Berdugo, Marc Charles Ginsberg, American Sephardi Federation, King Mohammed VI

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.