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Virtual Jewish World: Casablanca, Morocco

Casablanca, located near the capital city of Rabat, is the main Atlantic seaport in Morocco. Its man-made harbor has a 3,180 meter-long jetty with fishing and canning as the primary industries. With a population of approximately 3,000,000 people, Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco. Not surprisingly, it has the largest Jewish community in the country, numbering about 5,000.

The city's origins are closely connected to the medieval town of Anfa, which is now a suburb of the modern metropolis. The Berbers, who made Anfa their capital in the 7th century, quickly embraced Islam, but held fast to certain heretical doctrines. For example, they embraced their own prophet and developed a Quran in the Berber language. With the invasion of the Almoravides in the 11th century, the Berbers in Anfa were targeted. It was until the Almohades in the 12th century that the Anfa sect was finally defeated. 

The Merinid Dynasty of the 13th century also controlled the city, but as their power waned, Anfa became independent. The Portuguese destroyed it in 1468 as a reprisal for the piracy that plagued their trade, and then were forced to use force again in 1515. The Portuguese rebuilt the city in 1575 and renamed it Casa Branca, but they came under constant attack by Muslim tribes. A terrible earthquake in 1755 finally forced the Portuguese to abandon the city. The Arabs rebuilt the site and added a mosque. They called it Dar Al Beida (The White House), which the Spanish eventually translated to Casablanca after extensive trade relations were developed. It wasn't until the mid 19th century that that Casablanca began to grow as a result of regular sea traffic between Europe and Morocco.

When the Portuguese destroyed Anfa in 1468, the Jewish community was dispersed. A Jewish presence never really developed (despite the completion of the Rabbi Elijah Synagogue in 1750) until 1830 with the arrival of Jewish merchants from Rabat and Tetulan. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were 20,000 inhabitants of Casablanca, with about 6,000 Jews, two synagogues, eight talmud torah schools, and four private schools. As late as 1907, turmoil in the city resulted in large numbers of citizens being massacred, including 30 Jews. As Casablanca began to grow economically so did the Jewish community. The wealthy merchants of the city founded many philanthropic organizations to care for the needs of the poorer Jews who began to flock to the city. From 1948 to 1968, huge numbers of Jews streamed into Casablanca, either to capitalize on the economic prosperity, or to prepare to emigrate. The community has declined from a peak of 70,000 members in 1948 to roughly 5,000 today.

Sources: This material was originally published in Sparks! - an e-zine for Jewish families