A Man from the Mellah

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Whereas once the Mellah was a thriving commercial hub home to tens of thousands of people, now it is a run-down place which hosts only a few hundred Jews, as well as many of the poorest Muslims in the city. There is an odd energy to the Mellah. The neighbouring medina area is boisterous and colourful, bulging with people and commerce. Yet once I pass through the walls of the Mellah there is a distinct change in mood.

The streets are comparatively quiet and empty. Whereas in the medina I felt safe and welcome taking photos, in the Mellah immediately I am confronted by two men merely for carrying a camera. I am rescued from this volatile situation by a third man who intervenes on my behalf and calms the agitated men. As he leads me away down a narrow alley he warns me to be particularly discreet while taking photos in the Mellah. My natural suspicion makes me wonder whether the confrontation over my camera was all a set-up to earn Ali some cash.

By the time we reach this site — the largest Jewish cemetery in Morocco — I figure our relationship has run its course and wave Ali goodbye. The sun is strong this afternoon.

Its fierce rays are creating a blinding glare off the whitewashed tombstones tightly packed into this burial ground. These unusual headstones are shaped like coffins and few have any details clearly etched on them. On the perimeter of the cemetery are several mausoleums which house the bodies of rabbis. This cemetery dates back to the 15th century, a time when Jews throughout Morocco began to be housed in their own walled neighbourhoods. While the Mellah is in quite a state of disrepair these days, there are obvious and subtle signs throughout of its history as a Jewish neighbourhood. The cemetery is enormous, but this grave stands but because of the number of candles that continue to be lit in her memory by Jews who remember, perhaps not this individual girl, but the pain of that particular, recurring grief.

Mellah - Death, Pillage, Plunder (Official Audio)

The cemetery is adjacent to the mellah, the Jewish quarter, which, like the ghettos of Christian cities, defined a separate and inferior Jewish space. It is not that Jews could not rise to great wealth and even power in Moroccan society, they could and did. But, ultimately, they had no rights, only such privileges as the Muslim society and sultans chose to grant them. For centuries, they put up with what their neighbors dished out: the petty humiliations, heavy taxation, and occasional violence. Or they moved to a city where the prince offered better terms. The birth of the Jewish state offered Jews an opportunity to leave the lands where they lived on sufferance, and the Jews of Tinghir seized the chance to move to a land of their own.

jewish quarter - Fez Mellah

He even wrote that the opposition to the Arab Muslim invaders after the mid-7th century C. It appears that the problems referred to in the above article appeared only as a result of the dhimmitude imposed on the Jews after the advent of Arab Islamic rule. The following article also gets into related issues and was updated to become a chapter in my book….

Posted by dianamuir on July 23, Morocco , Uncategorized. Shops in Fez also have a variety of old and new Judaica, such as the vase pictured here. Morocco is known for its excellent craftwork, particularly zellige, or painted tiles, and mosaics. When a large number of the wealthy Jews left Morocco during times of political uncertainty around the 16th century CE, other Jews became involved in manufacturing and craftwork; a great number came to be excellent craftsmen.

Pictured here is a madrassa, or religious school, in Fez, with intricate zellige and mosaics decorating the exterior.


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Many Moroccan Jews interviewed in the film talk of how this vision did not come true. Due to the fact that North African Jews were greatly outnumbered by the number of Ashkenazi Jews who migrated from Europe, some even talk of how life in Israel represents for them yet another exile, as opposed to the long-promised homecoming.


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  7. Hachkar concedes that there is little hope of the repatriation of such people to Morocco, lamenting the loss of the Judeo-Arab coexistence that once existed, but is unlikely again. One woman tells him emotionally of how she was sent away from the job center when she told them she was Moroccan but invited in warmly at a separate job center after claiming to be Polish.


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    Yet Hachkar concedes that there is little hope of the repatriation of such people to Morocco, lamenting the loss of the Judeo-Arab coexistence that once existed, but is unlikely again. All present inquire enthusiastically after members of the Tinghir community they remember from six decades earlier. Many, of course, are deceased, yet it is striking how many of them remember the full names of their classmates from that time. It is clear that Tinghir lives on in their collective memory, regardless of the time and space that separate them from it.

    An essential part of their identity comes from having shared their lives with those who appear to be different. Tinghir Jerusalem demonstrates how collective memory and shared experience can act as a bridge between different peoples from different ethnic and ideological backgrounds.

    Shalom Weizmann (Author of A Man from the Mellah)

    It performs one of the crucial functions of art—it opens the mind of the viewer to what is possible. Tom lived in Morocco for a year and a half between and where he worked for the U. G affiliated language institute, AmidEast, and worked as a director for fair-trade business Yamas, of which he is a cofounder.

    Tinghir-Jerusalem poster. Kamal Hachkar with a resident of Tinghir. About The Author.