• Synagogue Marrakesh - Hannah

Morocco is an Aladdin’s cave of Jewish history, though nowadays, much is hidden from plain sight, requiring knowledge and insight to help unpeel its layers.

For more than 2,000 years, Jewish communities thrived within its city mellahs (Jewish quarters), integrating into all aspects of civil life and amongst Amazigh (Berber) peoples in some surprisingly remote locations, including the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert. Waves of Spanish persecution and expulsion, most notably after the Alhambra Decree, led Jews to flee the Iberian Peninsula and resettle in Morocco, where they carved a unique Sephardic identity. In the 1950s and 1960s, most emigrated to Israel, leaving only a tiny minority, mainly in Casablanca and Rabat, Marrakech, Fez, Meknes and Tetouan. Although only glimpses remain, we provide a lens into contemporary Jewish life and culture and its complex past, which dates back to 70 CE.

In the northern part of the country, with its proximity to the Strait of Gibraltar connecting Europe to Africa, Tetouan still has a small resident community within its Mellah, three active synagogues, and a remarkable 500-year-old Jewish cemetery, the largest and oldest in Morocco. Further south in Fez – home to the oldest Jewish sites in Morocco – the first Jewish quarter was established in 1498. The word mellah, derived from the Arabic word for “salt”, has its roots here, where the site is said to have been close to a salt marsh, and subsequently many other Jewish districts in Morocco took this name. Approximately one hour west, Meknes is still home to a hundred or so remaining Jews and a place of pilgrimage where prominent rabbis are buried in its old Jewish cemetery. Casablanca’s Museum of Moroccan Judaism is the only museum devoted to Judaism in the Arab world, and the captivating city of Marrakech once housed as many as 30,000 Jews and more than thirty synagogues within its Mellah.

We take in the pilgrimage sites of Morocco’s imperial cities, their restored synagogues, ancient cemeteries and Judeo-Sephardic street signs while connecting with active local communities and unlocking doors to Morocco’s present-day Jewish life and themes around Israel, the Abraham Accords and how these have affected Moroccan Jews. Although no longer active, Jewish communities once thrived in Essaouira, the Saharan Desert oasis town of Erfoud and a handful of small villages in the Atlas Mountains, an hour or so from Marrakech.

Through our network of contacts and inside track on Morocco’s Jewish life we are able to offer experiences completely unique to Pomegranate Travel. Join us for a locally-hosted Shabbat meal where shared stories meet warm hospitality and sample Moroccan Jewish cuisine (we can even arrange a Jewish cooking workshop!), discover the role of Jews in elevating Essaouira to a thriving port city, explore remote off-the-beaten-track Jewish sites in the Atlas mountains, and absorb the intriguing world of the Sahara Desert where Jews once made a living through the caravan trade with Sub-Saharan Africa.

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