“The Representation of Moroccan Jews in Moroccan Cinema”

July 17, 2012 by Youness Abeddour

“The Representation of Moroccan Jews in Moroccan Cinema” deals with Moroccan films that treat mainly or partially the image of the Jew in Morocco. The thesis proves that there is not one singular image, but rather many different images. We see the superstitious Jew, the greedy Jew, the timid Jew, and the poor Jew; but we also see the Jew as the friend, the neighbor, the lover, the mother, the business associate, the rich Jew and also the Amazigh (known as Berber) Jew.

The Representation of Moroccan Jews in Moroccan Cinema

The thesis is divided into three parts, part I deals with the concept of Diaspora which paved the way for Jews to come settle in Morocco, and then the concept of Zionism as a “returning” of the Jews to the homeland. These two feelings have created in Jews a duality of identities, belonging to different homes. Part I also provides background of the notion of cinema and representation. It shows how the ‘Other’ is represented, in that case the Jew as the cultural and religious ‘Other’. The thesis provides a brief analysis of different Moroccan films in which the Jew functions as a marginal character, namely in: Lalla Hobbi (1996), Yaqoot (1999), Ran Koullo Dounit (2000), Alash Lla (2005), Marock (2007), Kharboucha (2008), and finally the famous series Hedidan (2009). An extensive analysis of Where Are You Going Moshe? (2007) and Goodbye Mothers(2008) is dealt with in part II, taking in consideration the reaction of both Jews and Muslims to the emigration of Jews, the different types of relationships between Jews and Muslims: Romantic, Business and Social relationships, in addition to reflections on some scenes in the films. Finally the reactions of the audience to these two main films are discussed in part III under the title “Audience Analysis.” A survey is used to collect answers and reactions of mainly the Moroccan audience, both Jews and Muslims, to the films. In addition to interviews conducted with the filmmakers which give a broader background for the films.

It is interesting to learn that the respondents are very open to having more films on Moroccan Jews and their relation to the Moroccan history and culture. They believe that such films will bridge gaps between the two cultures in Morocco, and also educate people about their Moroccan history with all its components. The films were news for some, as they learned that Jews still exist in Morocco, and that they speak the same Arabic dialect.

An important question that one could ask is: Why cinema? I have chosen cinema as the medium for my research because it is an influential means and a very effective tool for educating people in a short amount of time. This is the reason why I focus on two main films that deal entirely with the theme of the emigration of the Moroccan Jews. These are Where Are you Going Moshe? by Hassan Benjelloun and Goodbye Mothers by Mohamed Ismail. These two films are not available any where (or was not in the case of Goodbye Mothers because it is now available online), therefore I had to go to Casablanca to meet with the filmmakers to watch them. Benjelloun refused to give me a copy, so I relied only on my notes which I took while watching the film in his office and on the audio recording that I managed to take; Ismail, however, entrusted me with a copy.

Another reason I opted for working on Moroccan cinema is because there is little English language material on Moroccan films, mainly on the ones dealing with Moroccan Jews. Most of the research done on these films was by foreign cinema critics such as Valerie Orlando and Sandra Carter, thus it would be useful to balance it with work by Moroccans.

I would like to draw your attention to this quote which has inspired this project: “It is in cinema’s nature to cross cultural borders within and between nations, to circulate across heterogeneous linguistic and social formations.[1]” I believe that it is a truly sincere goal of cinema. Cinema emerged as a means of changing societies and pushing them to think. In Egypt, for example, it was used against colonialism in order to spread nationalistic ideas.

Some of the challenges I faced in the beginning of this research was to get a hold of copies of the films I am working on, they are not available in the market nor in CCM (Centre Cinématographique Marocain), another challenge that I encountered during the completion of the thesis was getting enough answers to the questionnaire.

I will finish with this; my trip to Israel this summer (2012) has enriched my understanding of different aspects of Moroccan Judaism. It was very interesting to learn about the stories of those who preferred Eretz Israel and to learn about what caused their immigrations which are very well covered by the two films. In the conclusion of this thesis I said that Moroccan Jews “are Moroccans living in Israel, just like any other Moroccan who might be living abroad. They always come back to the country of their origins.” A few months later I was able to experience this when I met many Moroccan Jews in Israel who are fluent in Darija and Tamazight (Berber language), and who still remember every corner in their house, and still remember their friends and the details of their lives in Morocco before heading to Israel. I hope to carry on this project with further research and deep analysis that might introduce people to a new perspective on Jews, or at least to differentiate between Moroccan Jews and Zionists.

“The Representation of Moroccan Jews in Moroccan Cinema”

Submitted by: Youness Abeddour

Supervised by: Dr. Kebir Sandy

Thesis Defense: July 17, 2012 – Fez

Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University – Fez

[1] Toby Miller, A Companion to Film Theory, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), p. 262.