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Ifrane, Anti-Atlas إفران الأطلس الصغير

Ifrane, Anti-Atlas إفران الأطلس الصغير

The congregational loss. Abandoned places of worship are always a result of rupture, but the sacred rituals inscribed in the ruins remain. My visit to the abandoned synagogue in the village of Ifrane was a shocking experience. How did it come to be that this place no longer served as a congregation? The synagogue is shaped like a kernel, resembling a walnut. There are small holes on the wall, once used for books or candles, and other small windows. Everything is happening fast, and I yearn for a moment alone, but we are all standing in the middle of the synagogue. I feel the tension between my current vulnerability as tears well up in my throat, and the rest of us inside. I quickly set up the 360 camera and begin measuring and recording the synagogue, the walls, the ceiling, capturing as much documentation as possible. Then, I start placing candles inside the holes. where the Torah was once read.

Ifrane Anti-Atlas, or Oufrane as it was known by the Jews, is reputed to be the capital of an ancient Jewish kingdom. The kingdom was founded prior to the destruction of the second temple in Israel, around 500 BCE. While the kingdom was destroyed, the Jewish population remained and grew with the arrival of Jews accompanying the Romans and the Arabs in later centuries. Some Sephardic Jews also moved into the area following the Spanish inquisition.The Jews of this region were called the Ait Yussouf. They lived in the lower Draa Valley between Akka and the Atlantic, and their holy patron lived in Ifrane Anti-Atlas. They had good relations with local Amazigh tribes.

Marked by pogroms against the Jews throughout the country. Ifrane was severely impacted. Fifty Jews were burned at the stake, causing the remainder of the population to flee until the end of Moulay Yazid’s reign in 1792. This incident has entered into legend. According to Pierre Flamand in his book, “Diaspora en Terre d’Islam, Les Communautes Israelites du Sud,” the story goes like this:

Sixty Jews from Ifrane were working at a souk. A sorcerer named Bouhalassa arrived at the souk, accompanied by armed bandits. Bouhalassa wanted to prove his power. Inspired by Sultan Moulay Yazid, he chained up the 60 Jews and tortured them. The local population, who had treated the Jews of the area very well, were able to free ten of the Jews.

Bouhalassa gave the remaining 50 Jews the choice of conversion to Islam or death. He built a great fire. The Jews decided to jump into the fire as a group, rather than allowing even one of them to convert. One by one, each of them jumped into the fire. A column of fire rose up to the sky, and at night a candelabra of fire descended from the heavens. As a result, persecutions of Jews stopped. Ten Jews and thirty Muslims gathered up the ashes and brought them to the cemetery in Ifrane. The ashes of the 50 martyrs were buried and became an important pilgrimage site.


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