A Symbol of Plurality
Yousef El Miadi and Laura Brandt met while pursuing their master’s degree in World Heritage Studies. A joint project led Yousef and Laura to nominate the Jewish Quarter of Essaouira, Morocco, to the 2018 World Monuments Watch. Now, they are partnering with World Monuments Fund on an oral history and documentation project of the once-bustling Mellah. Over the past eight months, Yousef and Laura have been busy collecting stories about the community and places of meaning.
There is an urgency to document the story of the Jewish Quarter and the role it played in the city’s cultural and religious plurality before it is forgotten. The Jewish Quarter was included on the 2018 Watch to call for the interpretation of the site as a symbol of the peaceful coexistence between religions, contributing to intercultural and interreligious dialogue that can fight intolerance.
Watch Day 2019
During their most recent trip to Essaouira, Yousef and Laura organized a two-day Watch Day for local children. Watch Days are public engagement events celebrated at World Monuments Watch sites to promote community participation. On March 15, kids from Dar Chabab, a local youth center, donned their Watch Day t-shirts and toured the Mellah, learning about Jewish heritage in Essaouira.
At the Haim Pinto Synagogue, the group took a tour of the building, learning about the old Torah scrolls and other sacred objects. For most of the children, it was their first time visiting a synagogue and Malika, the site's caretaker, was happy to answer their questions. They were fascinated to learn that the city was once 40 percent Jewish and home to a thriving and diverse Jewish community.
Capturing the Mellah
The following day, a photography workshop took place. Children were taught how to capture a good photograph, considering lighting, composition, color, and subject matter. They later visited the Medina to explore and capture the port and the Kasbah. A selection of the pictures will be developed and displayed at Essaouira's youth center.
Essaouira's Watch Day was a success, and we look forward to sharing more about the oral histories we’ve documented in the coming months. Special thanks to American Express, founding sponsor of the World Monuments Watch, as well as generous support from the David Berg Foundation and the Jewish Heritage Endowment, which is making documentation possible.
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