According to reports, the Benchimol Hospital in Tangiers which has been standing for more than 110 years was torn down Friday night before Passover at 2 am. “There is a law in Morocco that you cannot enter any private property between 10 pm and 6 am,” explained a concerned member of the Moroccan Jewish community in Toronto. “There was no warning about it.”
The community is now concerned that further action against Jewish institutions may be taken by the authorities in Morocco and wishes to make the public aware of the situation. Although the Tangiers Jewish community now only consists of about 40 Jews (at its peak there were 22,000 Jews in the community), there are still important Jewish landmarks in the area, such as a Jewish nursing home and two cemeteries.
“The new cemetery which is in the outskirts of Tangiers is on the highway going to Rabat. At one point it was really let gone. You could hardly go inside the cemetery because there were snakes; there were bushes in between the tombs,” said the concerned individual. “It was not maintained at all. Last year we sent e-mails and finally they got their act together and they cleaned it completely, and I do have to admit that they did a very good job. But it took years of pounding and pounding until they did it.”
The second Jewish cemetery in Tangiers is commonly known as the old cemetery, and was in operation already in the 1910s. There are many righteous individuals buried there, but it has not been maintained for the last 60-70 years. As a member of the local Moroccan Jewish community explained, the cemetery faces the port of Tangiers and the Moroccan authorities have their eyes on it. The community fears that if nothing is done, the authorities will take over that property and remove all the corpses.
Members of the Moroccan Jewish community, both in Canada and around the world, have begun to send e-mails to the president of the Tangiers Jewish community, whom they say is responsible for the current troubles, asking him to either take steps to prevent further actions or step down. “The Jewish community in Tangiers is run by Mr. Azancot. He’s the president,” explained one member of the Moroccan Jewish community in Toronto. “He was elected many years ago when the Jewish community was numerous. He’s hardly ever in Tangiers and doesn’t run things properly.”
'Main concern is Jewish cemetery'
According to the sources in the community, Azancot was given a year’s notice by the Moroccan authorities to fix up the hospital, which has been abandoned for about 10 years. The hospital has given care to Jews, Christians, and Muslims over the years. The members of the community explained that the problem arose when the president of the Jewish community went to the authorities with a plan to tear down the hospital and build an apartment building on that property. This opened up “a Pandora’s Box” as they put it, since the Moroccan authorities said that obviously, if the Jews want to build something on that property, that means they do not care about the building and it can be torn down.
They added that Azancot had no authority to decide to tear down the building since the Jewish community does not own the land. The land is owned by the Benchimol family and the deed has been deposited in the French Consulate. This means that only the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France has a say on the fate of that building.
Besides bringing attention to Jewish communities worldwide, letters have been sent to Azancot by many Moroccan Jewish around the world. So far, said the sources, the e-mails have gone unanswered. Representatives of the Jewish communities in Madrid, Montreal, and Toronto have already been in contact with Azancot. Now, contact is also being made with the Canadian ambassador of Morocco.
A letter written by one of the communities here in Canada to the Moroccan ambassador in Canada said that “Morocco represents the paragon of coexistence in the Arab world. At a time when we are targeting a Jewish-Muslim reconciliation, measures such as those taken in anger in Tangiers leave us puzzled.” The letter urges the ambassador to convey the Jews’ dismay to the Moroccan authorities.
“The hospital is done and there’s nothing we can do to reconstruct the building. Our main concern is the Jewish cemetery. They can go anytime and take over. There’s a lot of tzadikim in that cemetery and that is our major concern,” said the community members. “The representative of the Jewish community has been warned already: Either do something or step down. Mr. Bardugo, who is the secretary of the entire Jewish community in Morocco, has advised him the same but unfortunately the Jewish community in Tangier does not answer to the general communities of Morocco. It’s a separate entity and has always been that way so nobody can do anything against that.”
Reprinted with permission from Shalom Life