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Morocco’s small Jewish community in mourning as virus death toll reaches 12

Local Jewish leader believes a wedding with visitors from abroad followed by Purim celebrations led to infections; members of tiny community make up 10% of national fatalities

Illustrative -- Members of the medical staff of a hospital where patients suffering from the Covid-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus are treated, in the city of Sale, north of the Moroccan capital Rabat, on April 12, 2020.  (FADEL SENNA / AFP)
Illustrative -- Members of the medical staff of a hospital where patients suffering from the Covid-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus are treated, in the city of Sale, north of the Moroccan capital Rabat, on April 12, 2020. (FADEL SENNA / AFP)

RABAT — Morocco’s small Jewish community has been hit hard by the coronavirus, losing 12 of its members after a wedding and a religious ceremony last month — 10 percent of the kingdom’s total deaths.

In early March, days before the country announced a lockdown to stem the spread of the virus, members of the community attended a wedding in the coastal city of Agadir, “along with guests from abroad,” said community leader Serge Berdugo.

“A few days later, they met again to celebrate the festival of Purim in Casablanca, and it was a tragedy,” he said.

The 12 who died included an 83-year-old rabbi, Shalom Edelman, and three relatives of the head of Israel’s Labour party, Amir Peretz.

Chairman of the Labor party Amir Peretz is seen during a press conference in Tel Aviv, March 12, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Peretz confirmed their deaths on his Facebook page and wrote that the pandemic had prevented him from visiting Morocco to attend their funerals.

Berdugo, who is head of the Council of the Jewish Community of Morocco, said several dozen people who had been infected were now “on the road to recovery.”

The community, which numbers between 2,500 and 3,000, was “extremely reassured by the attitude, competence and compassion of the medical services. We are very proud to be Moroccans,” he added.

A Moroccan health ministry worker disinfects a street in the capital Rabat on April 9, 2020 during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic crisis. (FADEL SENNA / AFP)

More than 1,800 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 illness have been reported in Morocco since the onset of the pandemic, with 126 deaths. However testing levels are thought to be minimal.

Moroccan authorities often highlight their country’s tradition of tolerance and have worked to rehabilitate Jewish cemeteries and synagogues.

Like most Arab states, Morocco has no official relations with Israel, but Israeli Jews visit every year to see the land of their ancestors or mark religious festivals.

Morocco imposed a public health state of emergency on March 19, confining everyone to their homes except those with a permit to be out for work.

Last week, authorities made wearing face masks in public obligatory.

Moroccan authorities wearing protective masks check people at a road block in a street in the capital Rabat on April 9, 2020 during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic crisis (FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Police and security agents supported by soldiers in armored cars have been deployed around the country, erecting road barriers and control points to enforce the measures.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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