A kosher hotel takes root in Marrakech

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                                the ogre city

By Romina Ruiz-Goiriena

MARRAKECH, MOROCCO

When Moroccan-born Israeli chef Mordechai Perez decided to visit Marrakech to search for his roots, he had no idea that he would also be making a career move. In short order, he would find himself the chief chef of Marrakech’s first-ever kosher hotel and restaurant, slated to open its doors this month.

“After my mother died, I left Israel,” relates the 44-year-old Perez. “A month ago, I came to Marrakech searching for my roots. I came and I stumbled onto this kosher hotel project.” “When I got the job as head chef, I decided to stay.”

He came to Marrakech, in part, to learn about his father’s legacy. “My father was the head of a village 75 km from here. He would come here every day because he was dedicated to the promulgation of Marrakech Jewish life.” Seated in the place his late father used to pray 60 years ago, Perez shares stories of the Jews who inhabited the Mellah in the beginning of the twentieth century. He is especially moved to be serving the same community which his father, Yaacov, served as rabbi.

To the casual observer, the quarter where the hotel is situated reflects the Muslim character of Morocco, its narrow alleys flooded with children playing and elders fasting for Islam’s holy month of Ramadan. But on closer inspection, the true nature of the Mellah, the Jewish quarter – in essence, the Moroccan version of the ghettos of European cities – becomes clear. Many of the homes are still decorated with mezuzot and a wealth of other sacred Jewish symbols. “The sign of a Jewish home,” Perez sighs with nostalgia, referring to a mezuzah in a Muslim-owned house.

Today, Marrakech is home to 300 Jews out of the 2,000 in the whole of Morocco. Marrakech’s Mellah, once a vibrant shelter to those expelled from Spain after 1492, recalls an era in which both Jew and Muslim were involved in the salt and spice commerce, and both lived and prayed within the medina’s thick paprika-red walls.

A veteran of hotel kitchens in Israel and in Belgium, Perez will be responsible for implementing all of the kashrut dietary regulations in the new facility. “I am one of the only ones in Marrakech trained to ‘kosherize’ and be a proper shomer (Kashrut Supervisor),” he says.

Jews in Marrakech

For co-owner Prosper Kadoch, 43, the new hotel and restaurant, located 15 minutes from the Mellah, is about creating a place for the Moroccan Jewish community, as well as “providing a home in Marrakech for Jews worldwide.” In recent years, adds co-owner Simon Acoca, 45, “Marrakech has undergone an incredible transition, and it is definitely a tourist hot-spot. We are just trying to open the market for Jews as well.”

In one of the most important cities in Africa, there is without doubt a need for real kosher cuisine, Kadoch says. Mindful of observant guests, the hotel and restaurant are to maintain strict standards of kashrut. The hotel will also have an in-house synagogue, and will anticipate the needs of those keeping Shabbat. The hotel and restaurant will be run in such a way that “the one who can observe the most can observe the least,” says Kadoch.

Although their primary target is Jewish community, the hotel will be open to visitors of all kinds. “What is important is that they understand that they will be complying with a kosher environment,” Acoca says. In addition, the hotel is to organize sightseeing tours to historic Jewish landmarks and areas in Marrakech. The owners aim to “contribute to a Jewish experience in the middle of Marrakech while still indulging in everything the Maghreb has to offer.”

The question of terror

For some potential visitors to Morocco, the specter of terrorism has been a factor in delaying a trip. Limor Azulay, 36, of Jerusalem, concedes that what has held her back from touring Morocco is fear. “My mother is Moroccan, and although I?ve always been interested, I’ve always been too afraid to go.” The fear has been underscored by multiple suicide bombings in Casablanca in 2003, whose targets included a Jewish-owned restaurant, and by the Moroccans involved in the Madrid train bombings the next year.

Mindful of the damage to tourism, the government has since made security – and a sense of safety for tourists – a high priority. “When it comes to tourism, there is a certain air of tranquility to be found in Morocco, and no one is willing to sacrifice that,” Acoca says. Perez agrees. “Word on the street is that there are little spurts of terrorism, but we know that the king takes care of them silently,” he says.”I have only been here for a month, I go outside of the mellah and everyone tells me “shalom, shalom” Perez says. “I speak back to them in my mother tongue, Moroccan Arabic, and they know that I am a Moroccan Jew. I know that there is nothing to be worried about.”

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8 Comments »

  1. 1
    Sabah Says:

    I am a Berber and I can say that In Morocco we are very proud of our Jews. I hope to visit that restaurant once because I know that jewish food taste great!

  2. 2
    rosanne skopp Says:

    what is the name of this kosher hotel?

  3. 3
    Sabah Says:

    Route de Casablanca N° 78 Marrakech ,
    Maroc
    Tel: +212 (0) 24 33 25 70/72/73 –
    Fax: +212 (0) 24 33 25 71 –
    contact@primavera-marrakech.com

  4. 4
    Houti Ali Says:

    the Moroccan team deserve to win last night match but unfortunatly yhings went wrong from the beginning.

  5. 5
    James Nyton Says:

    you are doing such a wonderful job . but more efforts are needed.

  6. 6
    BarbarA BOFKIN Says:

    what is the name and website of this kosher hotel?

  7. 7
    Christian Says:

    Hi,

    Moroccan jews are an important side of moroccan society. People like Azoulay (close advisor to the late and new king) are living proof that jewish moroccans are accepted and above all respected in ths country.

    As a UK expat i sense this country is much more tolerant than I could have ever expected.

    This is why we even decided to invest here………I see this country as the real gateway between Aftrica and Europe.

  8. 8
    mercerd Says:

    interesting material, where such topics do you find? I will often go


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