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Morocco’s Jews celebrate Hanukkah ‘miracle’ of new Israel ties

Members of Casablanca Jewish community mark festival with US ambassador in ceremony feting recently announced normalization with Jewish state

Rabbi Levi Banon and a member of Casablanca's Jewish community during a ceremony on the fifth night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah on December 14, 2020 in Casablanca. (FADEL SENNA/AFP)
Rabbi Levi Banon and a member of Casablanca's Jewish community during a ceremony on the fifth night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah on December 14, 2020 in Casablanca. (FADEL SENNA/AFP)

CASABLANCAMorocco — Morocco’s Jewish community celebrated on Monday the “Hanukkah miracle” of the normalization of Israeli-Moroccan relations, in a Casablanca ceremony held via a video streaming platform.

The diplomatic breakthrough, linked to Washington’s recognition of Rabat’s sovereignty over a disputed Western Sahara territory, was announced as the Jewish Festival of Lights began last Thursday.

Dozens of faithful and guests including US Ambassador to Rabat David Fischer took part in the ceremony broadcast live on the Zoom video-conference platform from the Casablanca Olympic Stadium.

“The announcement was made on the first day of Hanukkah… so this is our miracle of Hanukkah 2020,” said Rabbi Levi Banon.

According to Jewish tradition, a new candle is lit on each of the festival’s eight nights to commemorate the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration in the year 160 BCE.

“Usually we spend Hanukkah together as a community,” said Banon, calling it a “moment of warmth and light.”

Rabbi Levi Banon and US ambassador David T. Fischer (on screen) during a ceremony on the fifth night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah on December 14, 2020 in Casablanca. (FADEL SENNA/AFP)

“This year we couldn’t do it face-to-face, but we said no to the darkness,” the Moroccan rabbi told AFP after the ritual candle lighting.

Ken Ouhanna, 35, designated master of the ceremony, said about the normalization that its timing “on the day of the first candle of the Hanukkah is a sign from God for me, the sign of a miracle.”

Morocco is home to North Africa’s largest Jewish community, which has been there since ancient times and grew with the arrival of Jews expelled from Spain by Catholic kings from 1492.

It reached about 250,000 in the late 1940s, 10 percent of the national population. But many Jews left after the creation of Israel in 1948, many of them fleeing local hostilities directed at them over the establishment of the Jewish state. About 3,000 Jews remain in Morocco and the Casablanca community is one of the country’s most active.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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