Morocco opens Arab world’s first campus synagogue

The house of worship is considered a sign of the warming ties between Rabat and Jerusalem as well as a symbol of Moroccan tolerance.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The first university campus synagogue in the Arab world was opened in Morocco Thursday in a ceremony attended by the heads of the Jewish communities of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as well as local Jewish and non-Jewish leaders.

The small house of prayer was built in the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P) in Marrakech with the full support of the school’s administration, which received funding as well from Morocco’s Mimouna Association and the American Sephardi Federation.

While there are a few Jewish faculty members on campus, there are no Jewish students as of yet, according to Jason Guberman, the Federation’s executive director. This is set to change, he told The Media Line, in the wake of “several research partnerships with Israeli institutions” that were recently inked.

In the event, the venue has a wider purpose than simply serving Jewish religious needs.

“The significance of opening a synagogue at the university in Morocco, especially one that is named after the King, is of great import,” noted Chief Rabbi of the UAE Jewish Council Elie Abadie.

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“It gives recognition of the Jewish community and Judaism as part and parcel of the Moroccan population and academic institutions,” he added, according to Morocco World News.

It will also be a venue to host lectures and activities of students and guests wishing to learn about Jewish culture. Promotion of Jewish culture is one of the main purposes of both the American Sephardi Federation and the Mimouna Association, the latter of which was established in 2007 to fight extremism by “reclaiming” the country’s “cultural diversity,” as its website states.

The Media Line quoted Association founder and head El Mehdi Boudra as saying that the synagogue was named Beit Allah (House of God in Arabic), “with only a wall” separating it from a new campus mosque, as a concrete symbol Morocco’s credo of coexistence between its various religious communities.

The synagogue has the full blessing of King Mohammed VI, Boudra said.

The move was also widely recognized in the Moroccan media as another sign of growing ties between Jerusalem and Rabat following the signing of the Abraham Accords two years ago that normalized their diplomatic relations.

While the two countries have had a warm informal relationship for decades, with Israelis visiting freely, a milestone was reached last November when they signed a defense agreement, the first of its kind with an Arab state.

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In September, for the first time, Lt.-Gen. Belkhir El Farouk, Inspector General of the Moroccan Armed Forces, arrived in Israel to participate in the IDF’s International Operational Innovation Conference.

The synagogue ceremony included Jewish dignitaries taking turns nailing a mezuzah on the synagogue’s doorpost. Jewish members of the Marrakech and Fez communities then inaugurated the house of worship by holding its first prayer service.