Sidney Corcos was ten years old when he left Essaouira for Israel. His was one of the merchant families that came to Essaouira as tujjar al-sultan, or the Sultan’s merchants. His father had a riad in the Kasbah, and Sidney remembers looking down into the warehouse to the ground floor where all the merchandise was stored.
Even though he spent a lot of time in Agadir as a child, he remembers Essaouira and the houses where family members and friends lived—mostly in the Kasbah. After retiring as director of the Natural History Museum in Jerusalem, he took up his father’s interest in the family’s history. Today he is conducting research on the history of his hometown and is greatly involved in the Bayt Dakira project, a new exhibition space and a research center about the Jewish community of Essaouira. Bayt Dakira is housed in the now restored former residence of the Attia family, which also served as a synagogue and a rabbinical court.
Sidney recalls the location of several warehouses and offices in the New Kasbah (a later extension of the Kasbah), including those of his grandfather. Today they are home to an art gallery on Avenue Du Caire. There was also another synagogue, Slat l’Inglise, on Derb Youssef Al Fassi.
Andre Azoulay, advisor to the Moroccan King, is a principal driving force behind the Bayt Dakira project, which translates to “House of Memory". “This heritage deserves more than ever to be preserved, known, and promoted in a time and in a world crossed by the temptations of withdrawal, exclusion and too often by the vertigo of confrontation,” said Azoulay.
With the establishment of the Association Essaouira-Mogador, “Moroccan Jewish memory now has its guardians,” André explained. “Of all generations and all faiths, these Moroccans by birth or by heart are more mobilized, each on their own scale and in their living space, to preserve, perpetuate, and promote Moroccan Judaism, a unique and often exemplary component of the identity of our country, which is the pride of Moroccan Jews and of their Muslim compatriots.”
Josef Sebag is believed to be the only remaining permanent Jewish resident of Essaouira. He runs Galerie Aida in the Kasbah, where his father once ran a business insuring boats. “There were nice houses in the Mellah,” he recounted. “I remember them overlooking the ocean, but they were not looked after and now they are gone.”
He believes there is still much to do to help preserve the history of Jewish life in Essaouira. He pointed out that buildings with significant Jewish history, such as the Maison du Quartier that was once a Talmud Torah, currently have no on-site commemoration. “There is no sign, nothing, that tells people that it used to be the Talmud Torah, just Maison du Quartier,” he explained. “It is not right.”
Josef described how the transition of the Mellah into being majority Muslim was not absolute. “When Jews left and Muslims would move into the houses and they affix new doors, they would sometimes ask the carpenter to keep the Mezuzah at the door as a memory.”
Special thanks to the David Berg Foundation and the Jewish Heritage Endowment, whose generous support made documentation of this special site possible.
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