Return to Casablan­ca: Jews, Mus­lims and an Israeli Anthropologist

André Levy
  • Review
By – February 1, 2016

André Levy’s Return to Casablan­ca focus­es on the impli­ca­tions of the mass Jew­ish emi­gra­tion from Moroc­co — both for the emi­grants them­selves and for those Jews who chose to remain in Moroc­co. Levy was born in Casablan­ca and moved to Israel with his fam­i­ly as a child in the 1960s. He nar­rates this book from a per­son­al stand­point, describ­ing his upbring­ing, stud­ies, and fam­i­ly rela­tions, as well as his vis­its to Moroc­co and encoun­ters there. 

While a good num­ber of stud­ies have been made regard­ing Morocco’s emi­grants, very few have been con­duct­ed on the small Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty that stayed in Moroc­co. It is esti­mat­ed that of the 250,000 Jews who lived in Moroc­co before the mass emi­gra­tion, only some 3,000 remain, the major­i­ty of whom live in a small area in Casablan­ca. (Despite sev­er­al requests, Levy was unable to receive pop­u­la­tion data from var­i­ous Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions, appar­ent­ly because of con­cern about expos­ing the dwin­dling num­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty lest this jeop­ar­dize aid from inter­na­tion­al organizations.)

A major focus of this book is the con­trac­tion of the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty of Moroc­co and its effects on dai­ly life, liv­ing envi­ron­ment, and rela­tions with Mus­lims. Moroc­can Jews most­ly live in close prox­im­i­ty to each oth­er and to their main com­mu­nal insti­tu­tions. Their con­tacts with Mus­lims are mul­ti­fac­eted; while often Jews try to keep a dis­tance from Mus­lims, they do engage with the lat­ter while work­ing and shop­ping, and as neigh­bors. In these set­tings, they treat one anoth­er as indi­vid­u­als. One chap­ter deals with the unique rela­tions between Jews and Mus­lims on the beach, espe­cial­ly among card-play­ing men. The idea of dias­po­ra” is also exam­ined. What is dias­po­ra” for Moroc­can Jews, Moroc­co or Israel? 

Levy’s work has many mer­its: it is nuanced, detailed, inti­mate­ly told. It would have been inter­est­ing, how­ev­er, to learn more about the social and eco­nom­ic struc­ture and con­di­tions of the com­mu­ni­ty that remained in Moroc­co. The book also would have ben­e­fit­ted from stricter edit­ing (e.g., Cyre­naica is in east­ern, not north­ern, Libya [p. 64]; Dar al-Harb means House of War, not House of Sword [p. 64]; a man is a wid­ow­er,” not a wid­ow” [p. 83]). This book will be an eas­i­er read for those accus­tomed to anthro­po­log­i­cal writings.

Return to Casablan­ca is an impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion to the study of Jews in the Mus­lim world: not many com­mu­ni­ties still exist, and the Moroc­can one is the largest. The book is also of inter­est for minor­i­ty stud­ies and its explo­ration of the notion of dias­po­ra.”

Relat­ed Content:

Rachel Simon, a librar­i­an at Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty, does research on Jews in the mod­ern Mid­dle East and North Africa, with spe­cial ref­er­ence to Libya, Ottoman Empire, women, and education.

Discussion Questions