Israeli musical plays in Morocco in Hebrew — a first for any Arab country

Production’s arrival underlines warming relations between the countries; Israeli cast welcomed with open arms, Channel 12 says

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

'Bustan Sephardi' cast seen on stage in Rabat, Morocco, November 2022. (Channel 12)
'Bustan Sephardi' cast seen on stage in Rabat, Morocco, November 2022. (Channel 12)

In the latest sign of the warming ties between Israel and Morocco, an Israeli musical was performed in the North African country in Hebrew last week — a first for Morocco or any Arab country.

“Bustan Sephardi” (“Spanish Orchard”) is a new version of the 1969 original play by the same title that depicted daily life in a Sephardic neighborhood of Jerusalem during the 1930s. It was written by Yitzhak Navon, who would later become Israel’s fifth president.

The play’s arrival in Rabat is seen as a potential gateway for further cultural exchanges between the countries.

The initiative to perform the Israeli play in Morocco was led by Navon’s son Erez. The Navon family are descendants of a renowned Moroccan-Jewish family that immigrated to Jerusalem in 1742, and Erez has been on a mission to bring his father’s work to the country since the two countries normalized relations in 2020.

“‘Bustan Sephardi’ highlights the culture of Sephardic Jews that was muted at the time [of its writing],” Navon told Channel 12 on Saturday. “My father saw the outcry of Sephardic Jews who were seeing their culture vanish and being silenced and so ‘Bustan Sephardi’ was born.”

The report said the Israeli cast that was flown into Rabat received a friendly reception.

“We weren’t told by Israeli security personnel not to speak Hebrew or to hide our Jewish symbols. We’ve been acting like we would in Jerusalem,” said Noam Semel, CEO of Israel’s national theater, Habima.

The show ended with a Moroccan choir singing the Israeli national anthem “Hatikva” along with the Israeli actors.

“It’s crazy, I can’t believe we’re speaking Hebrew on the stage of Morocco’s national theater,” said Israeli actor Tal Mosseri.

The play appears to have been well-received.

“In Morocco there were once Muslims and Jews living together. Now it’s all very complicated. I’m happy to be here,” one local who came to watch the show told Channel 12.

“There are many Moroccans in Israel, so for us, this is a bridge for the community in Israel and Moroccans here,” said Morocco’s Youth, Culture and Communications Minister Mohamed Mehdi Bensaid.

Israeli actors and a Moroccan choir sing Israel’s anthem “Hatikva” at the end of Israeli musical ‘Bustan Sephardi’ in Rabat, November 2022. (Channel 12)

With nearly 3,000 performances since it first debuted, “Bustan Sephardi” is considered one of the most popular plays in Israeli history and the longest-running play at Habima.

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