Historic Kinus in Morocco Begins With Visit to Rambam’s Home

Photos: Avi Winner/Merkos 302

Shluchim from 40 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe gathered in Morocco for the first-ever Kinus Hashluchim in the country. It began with a Siyum Harambam in the very home where the Rambam lived.

By Mendel Super – Chabad.org

The Rambam lived in Fez, Morocco, after being exiled from Spain following the Almohad conquest of Cordoba in 1148. Shluchim returned to the city as part of a historic rabbinic conference in Casablanca this week, possibly the largest gathering of rabbinic leaders in Fez since Maimonides’ times. They were there to celebrate the conclusion of the last chapter of Rambam’s magnum opus, Mishneh Torah, whose study cycle has been completed around the world in recent weeks.

The shluchim at the conference represent relatively small Jewish communities in 40 countries from Africa to the Middle East as well as smaller European Jewish communities like Bucharest, Romania, and Dublin, Ireland, among dozens of others. The conference also drew participants from Muslim-majority countries including Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Nigeria.

The conference comes almost 75 years after Chabad was founded in Morocco in 1950, when the Rebbe at the behest of the Frierdiker Rebbe, sent Rabbi Michoel Lipsker to Morocco, where he and his wife served the historic Jewish community and he established a yeshivah in Meknes.

Several months later, they were joined by Rabbi Shlomo and Pesia Matusof, who directed Chabad activities in Casablanca. Over the years they were joined by several additional Chabad rabbinic couples, including Rabbi Nissan and Rachel Pinson to Casablanca in 1953. They were later assigned to Tunisia, where Rachel Pinson, 95, still directs Chabad-Lubavitch of Tunisia today.

The early Moroccan emissaries, Yiddish-speaking young men and women, many of whom survived Stalinist Russia, were from a vastly different culture and background than the Sephardic, French- and Arabic-speaking Moroccan Jews. Yet, they established and led day schools for boys and girls and yeshivas and seminaries to train the next generation of leaders, some of which went on to lead Moroccan Jewish communities in Morocco and around the world.

Today, many of the children of these emissaries serve as Chabad emissaries around the world, many in Moroccan diaspora communities, such as Rabbi Mendel Raskin, who directs Chabad of Cote St. Luc in Montreal.

A Resurgence of Jewish Life

Serving as an interpreter for Chabad.org at the event, Raskin joined Rahamim Azuelos, a resident of Fez, whose family has been in in the city since they were exiled from Spain some 500 years ago. Azuelos recalled meeting Raskin’s father, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Raskin of Casablanca in Fez for the ceremony to conclude the first study-cycle of Mishnah Torah in 1985. While speaking, they discovered that the younger Raskin was Azuelos son’s counselor in the Chabad summer camp in Fez 40 years earlier.

“For such an event to happen in Morocco is extraordinary,” Azuelos told Chabad.org. “In America it’s normal, but not here in Morocco.”

Henri Cohen, who’s lived in Fez for 54 years, noted that he first encountered Chabad growing up in Sefrou, a city near Fez. Today, Cohen is one of just 40 Jews living in Fez, down from 27,000 when he and Azuelos were growing up. He maintains the cemeteries in Sefrou, where he was born, and in Fez. “We are so happy the Chabad emissaries came. Today I met my cousin here in Fez at the conference. He’s the Chabad rabbi in Marrakesh [Rabbi Chimon Lahiany]. I never knew about him before. His grandmother and my mother were sisters.”

The conference was hosted by Moroccan-born Rabbi Levi Banon and his U.S.-born wife, Chana, who have served as emissaries at Chabad-Lubavitch of Morocco since 2009, when Mrs. Raizel Raskin, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Morocco, appointed them to lead the next generation of Moroccan Jewry.

Throughout the three-day conference the emissaries discussed the opportunities and challenges of serving in communities with limited access to Jewish services, from kosher food to mikvahs to Jewish schools.

The rabbis and their families were welcomed to the conference by Rabbi David Banon of Montreal, a prominent rabbi of the Moroccan Jewish diaspora, who recited the traditional blessing for the nation’s monarch, King Mohammed VI.

The conference included presentations and meeting with Serge Bardugo, president of Morocco’s Jewish communities and the members of Morocco’s rabbinical court.

The last decade has seen Chabad’s presence expand across the general region, with centers being established in Angola, the Canary Islands, Ghana, Iceland, Ivory Coast, Malta, Montenegro, Rwanda, Uganda, the United Arab Emirates and Zambia.

“Choosing Morocco as the location of this year’s conference highlights Chabad’s ongoing commitment to Jewish life in the Middle East and North Africa, especially in communities with smaller Jewish populations” says Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice-chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. “It is thanks to the vision of the Rebbe that Chabad is the most vibrant Jewish movement today, with the dedicated emissaries who give up so much of themselves to benefit others.”

Rabbi Mendy Chitrik,a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Istanbul, Turkey, rabbi of Istanbul’s Ashkenazic community and chairman of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States, just returned from a visit to Djerba, Tunisia, where he had gone immediately following the attack on the Djerba Jewish community on Lag BaOmer, one of the few rabbis to visit on the ground and strengthen the community. “Rabbis coming together in a Muslim country for the purpose of strengthening Jewish life is an important indication of the future of Jewish life in the region.”

Reprinted with permission from Chabad.org.

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