By, Ben Perlstein
Ben is a former National Mazkirut member, Tel Yehudah camper and staff member, Machon in Israel participant, and Alternative Winter Break staff member
Last month, I traveled to Morocco to attend the first Holocaust conference in the Arab world. Chiefly organized by the Mimouna Club, an all-Muslim student organization at Al-Akhawayn University devoted to promoting Moroccan-Jewish culture, and co-sponsored by Kivunim, the conference was held over the course of three days at Morocco's Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane and the Museum of Moroccan Judaism in Casablanca.
An unprecedented international and interfaith assembly of students, scholars, government officials, and others, gathered to explore the more traditional history of the Holocaust, as well as lesser-known threads of the story, such as the Moroccan-Jewish experience during World War II and the decent actions of Morocco's war-time King Mohammad V, who worked to protect his Jewish subjects from the racist laws, deportation and threat of probable annihilation posed by the Nazi puppet regime in Vichy, France. For me what was so remarkable about this experience was the conference's demonstration of the strength of the shared roots that bind seemingly disparate people--especially in the Middle East. This group of Muslim students, totally of their own initiative, has pursued a richer sense of their own Moroccan identity through exposure to Jewish history and culture, and in turn has sought to learn about the Jewish People through our own contributions to Moroccan heritage.
Yet, as easy as it is to focus exclusively on the seeming miraculousness of an Arab-Muslim society showcasing its identification with the Holocaust, we must not lose sight of the fact that, as much as this conference was about Holocaust education in Arab and Muslim countries, it was also about Arab and Muslim countries in Holocaust education. Indeed, how many of us American Jews, even with our many opportunities to meet Holocaust survivors and learn about the Holocaust, have ever heard of the actions of the Moroccan King Mohammad V? And, perhaps more significantly for us as members, alumni and staff of a Zionist youth movement, what implications does this have for the way we approach the Middle East in terms of Israel and Jewish-Arab relations more broadly?
As an example of the promise of the next generation’s contribution to Jewish identity, Holocaust commemoration and Jewish-Arab relations in the 21st century, the existence of such a conference has important implications for all of the work that we do to educate future Jewish leaders and help them to discover in their roots the inspiration to heal the world.
For more information about the Conference, feel free to check out the articles below:
The New York Times (Sept. 23, 2011) - Distinctive Mission for Muslims' Conference: Remembering the Holocaust
Ha'aretz (Sept. 23, 2011) - Morocco University Holds First Holocaust Conference in Arab World