The day after terrorist attacks rocked the Jewish community of Casablanca (four of the damaged buildings were identified as Jewish) Natalie called to check on her relatives who still live there. She had moved to Queens five years ago from that Moroccan city.
"They are scared, for sure," she said.
Natalie’s relatives are looking to leave after Israel issued an open invitation to Morocco’s remaining 5,000 Jews to make aliyah, she said, but added they aren’t likely to immigrate soon.
She declines to give her last name, since she has relatives who live in her homeland; negative publicity under a dictatorial monarchy could be dangerous.
It’s not easy to sell a business at a moment’s notice, Natalie says of Morocco’s Jewish community, which is comprised mostly of middle-class merchants. The long-term threat posed by al-Qaeda supporters who are suspected in last Friday night’s attacks, or by fellow citizens of the Muslim country, is still unknown.
"They have to wait to see what happens," she said. And, she adds, "it’s not only the Jews. In Morocco everyone is scared."
Last week’s attacks killed 28 people, none of them Jewish, and injured 100.
Serge Bardugo, head of Morocco’s Jewish community, called on Jews to add to Shabbat services a special prayer thanking God that no Moroccan Jews were killed in the attacks.
The bombings at a Jewish social club, a Jewish cemetery, a Jewish-owned restaurant and a hotel popular with Israeli tourists was a blow to the prestige of the regime of King Mohammed VI, whose extensive security network had guaranteed the safety of Jewish sites during the U.S. war against Iraq. His predecessors on the throne protected Jews during World War II and during the 1991 Gulf War.
Mobs of citizens who perceived Jews as supportive of the latest American war might seek revenge against Moroccan Jews, it was feared.
Though Moroccan Jewry traditionally boasts about the tolerance of Moroccan society and close ties with Muslim neighbors, the increasing influence of Muslim fundamentalists has increased tension in the Jewish community. Following the stabbing of a Moroccan Jew a year ago, most Jewish men have stopped wearing skullcaps in public.
Since last week’s attacks, army patrols of Jewish venues in Casablanca have been increased. The king, accompanied by Jewish and Muslim leaders, made a well-publicized visit to the damaged sites and said the government would repair the damage.
"They have put their money where their mouth is," an observer of Moroccan current events said of the monarchy’s commitment to the safety of its Jewish community.
"People there have always had enormous faith in the king" to protect Moroccan Jews, a former member of the Jewish community who now lives in Paris told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Moroccan Jewry, which began after the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 and grew to 250,000 a half-century ago, rapidly diminished after the State of Israel was established in 1948.
The Jewish population, estimated at 4,000 to 5,000, has remained constant over the past few decades, as young Jews went overseas (primarily to France) for college and did not return.
The country’s remaining Jews, concentrated in Casablanca and a half-dozen other cities, support a network of Jewish institutions including schools, synagogues, social clubs, seniors’ homes, kosher restaurants and bakeries.
Overseas organizations, primarily the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Chabad Lubavitch chasidic movement, are active there.
The JDC, said executive vice president Steve Schwager, "will consult closely with the leaders of the Jewish community to assess what should be further steps to maintain the rich fabric of Jewish communal life in Morocco."
"Many Muslims have telephoned us to show their solidarity, to say they are with us," Victor Mamane, a leader of Casablanca Jewry, told The Times of London.
After the attacks, Israeli Absorption Minister Tzippy Livni promised special assistance from the Jewish Agency to Moroccan Jews who make aliyah.
Ben Sheetrit, chairman of the World Federation of Moroccan Jewry, declared: "The time has come for the last remaining Jews of Morocco to pack up their belongings and join the 700,000 Moroccan Jews who have immigrated to Israel."
Leaders of Moroccan Jewry have asked Israeli officials to curtail the talk of aliyah, the observer of Moroccan politics said.
Moroccan Jews "are there to stay: they’re not interested in aliyah," he said, and reports about their interest in leaving for Israel can endanger them.
However, Moroccan businessman Robert Asraf, a leader of the country’s Jewish community, was quoted by Haaretz as saying, "I believe that the recent terror attacks will lead to a marked increase in the number of Jews who will leave Morocco this year."
"They are afraid of their neighbors, afraid they will get bombed," Natalie says. "If something happens," in Morocco or in Israel, "they are the first to get attacked."
The Moroccan Jews interested in immigration have there eyes "only on America," Natalie said.
"In Israel there are problems. In France there are problems," she said. "Where is it safe?"