Jews Account for Over 10 Percent of Coronavirus Deaths in Morocco

The spread in the Moroccan Jewish community is believed to have come from several French Jews infected with the virus who attended a local wedding

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Jewish graves are seen at a cemetery in Fez, Morocco.
Jewish graves are seen at a cemetery in Fez, Morocco.Credit: Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

The Jewish community of Morocco has been one of the hardest hit, if not the hardest hit, in the world by the coronavirus – at least in relative terms.

Israeli officials who monitor developments in the Moroccan Jewish community reported that as of Monday, 13 members had died of complications from the virus, all of them from Casablanca.

According to official figures, some 2,000 Jews currently live in Morocco, the vast majority in the port city. Sources knowledgeable about the community believe this figure is inflated and that the real number is closer to 1,500.

The officials were unable to provide details on the number of Moroccan Jews who were infected with the coronavirus or who had been hospitalized.

As of the start of the week, a total of 1,661 confirmed coronavirus cases had been reported in Morocco, with 118 deaths. Deaths within the Jewish community, therefore, accounted for 11 percent of the total – a disproportionately large share considering that the Jewish population is hardly a tiny fraction of a percent of the country’s total population of 36 million.

The death toll in the Jewish communities of Great Britain, France and Sweden has also been disproportionately high, but not to this extent.

The pandemic is believed to have begun spreading in Morocco’s Jewish community after several French Jews, who were already infected, attended a wedding in the coastal city of Agadir. Some of the locals at that wedding then participated in Purim holiday gatherings and celebrations some 400 kilometers (250 miles) away in Casablanca, where the virus spread further.

Among the dead are three relatives of Israeli Labor Party leader Amir Peretz: Emil Peretz, 74, a prominent businessman, his wife Simone, 75, and his son Ari, 52. The mother and son both died at the end of March, and the father a week later.

Workers wearing protective suits disinfect as police and army officers patrol streets following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Rabat, Morocco March 23, 2020.Credit: YOUSSEF BOUDLAL/ REUTERS

In a Facebook post, the Israeli politician reported that Moroccan government officials and members of the royal family had contacted him to express their condolences. “The distancing mandated by the coronavirus pandemic had prevented members of the extended family of Emil, Simone and Ari to be with them in their difficult moments and to honor them at their funerals,” he wrote.

Among the latest victims was Rabbi Sholom Eidelman, the longtime emissary of Chabad, the Orthodox outreach movement, in Casablanca. Eidelman, 83, was based in Morocco for more than half a century, where he set up a kollel (a full-time Jewish learning institution for adults) and trained generations of rabbis and kosher butchers. His students included Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the former chief Sephardi rabbi of Israel and current chief rabbi of Jerusalem.

Last month, a rabbi at St John’s Wood Synagogue in London announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Rabbi Yoni Golker began showing symptoms shortly after returning from a trip to Casablanca, where he visited a Jewish school and synagogue.

About a dozen Moroccan Jews who have Israeli citizenship have been trying in vain to leave the country for Israel. An Israeli Foreign Ministry proposal to have them airlifted failed to obtain the necessary permits. A privately funded initiative that would see them fly to Israel via the United States is now being considered.

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