Los Hispanojudíos

TALIM Hispano JudíosWhen is an exhibit at a Spanish cultural center, illustrating the history of Jews in Morocco, the object of controversy?

When the exhibit – Los Hispanojudíos en Marruecos y sus diásporas, currently at the Tangier Cervantes Institute – is mounted by a Spanish institution with "Israel" in its name.

In cooperation with Instituto Cervantes and the wonderfully-named Fundación Premio Convivencia (a reference to that time when Al-Andalus was home to the three monotheistic religions, living in harmony), the Spanish cultural organization Centro Sefarad-Israel has mounted a serious, thoughtful, and well-documented exhibit tracing the history of Jews in Morocco.

The Centro Sefarad-Israel is a Spanish, not an Israeli, institution.  Part of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation public diplomacy effort.

Spain has a number of these cultural institutions dedicated to certain key regions of the world (Casa Árabe, Casa Asia, etc.).  But you guessed it: the word "Israel" in its title triggered a demonstration on the eve of the exhibit opening last week.  Police prevented things from getting out of hand; press reports indicate that the protest was organized by Islamist parties and pro-Palestinian organizations.

The fact that Morocco has a long, proud history of providing refuge to Jews – those fleeing the Spanish Inquisition or expelled by the Catholic monarchy, as well as in the mid-20th century, when Sultan Mohammed V stood in the way of Vichy French authorities bent on persecuting Jews – all that was apparently for nought with the protestors.

For the rallying cry was anti-normalization with Israel.  Deputies in the Moroccan parliament have drafted laws proposing to criminalize such things as travel to Israel or calling for anything seen as "normalization."  This, at a time when in Israel, numbers of young Sephardic Jews want to renew links with the Morocco of their parents' and grandparents' memory.

There is another aspect, that of Spanish moves to grant descendants of the expelled Jews Spanish citizenship.  Many Muslim Moroccans ask, "why not us too?"  Their ancestors were, after all, victims of the same xenophobic Reconquista.

None of this serves to reassure the country's dwindling Jewish population, which has, as Ralph Toledano described in his recent book Un Prince à Casablanca, sometimes suffered jolts to its traditional sense of security in Morocco, often brought on by outside, unrelated circumstances.

The exhibit runs through 14 March.

Gerald Loftus 

Teatro Cervantes Centenary: Year Zero

TALIM Cervantes Sign
Whatever happens to Tangier's landmark Cervantes Theatre – Gran Teatro Cervantes – in its second century will not likely be a repeat of its tumultuous first 100 years.  Despite the attention raised by the 1913 -2013 centenary year and the wonderful exhibit at Tangier's Cervantes Institute which opened last night, the future of "GTC" is likely to be a continuation of its long decline into oblivion.  Le Monde highlighted the fading beauty earlier this year.

It need not have been so.  In this centenary year, theater greats Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford wanted to lead an international fundraising effort to restore GTC to its former glory, but ran into general apathy or bureaucratic hurdles – is the Teatro Cervantes still Spanish? (yes) or is it Moroccan (yes, at least the city of Tangier has a say in its destiny).  The Ashford/Branagh effort never got off the ground.

TALIM Cervantes exposition
The current exposition (through 12 January) in Tangier is well worth seeing, lovingly mounted by Madrid Autonomous University (UAM) Prof. Bernabé López García, a renowned expert on Spain in Morocco.  GTC has been a theater, a cinema (early Bollywood was its specialty post-independence), and even a wrestling ring…  Artifacts from the theater (chairs, decor) and a wealth of documents from the Spanish Consulate archives, make this a highly educational display.

With the assistance of French Tangier-based photographer Daniel Aron, whose imaginative use of lighting momentarily brought the eerie derelict back to life, the exhibit provides a wealth of historical detail on a century that saw two world wars, a civil war (though in Spain, Tangier was affected), transition from International Zone to Moroccan independence, then a long, slow decline, with the last event happening in GTC in 1993.  It's been closed – and falling apart – ever since.

TALIM Cervantes Aron

Despite encouraging words from the mayor of Tangier (evoking King Mohammed VI's "Tangier Metropolis" project) and the Spanish Consul General (hoping that the renovation of the port will help the theatre, which is in the general neighborhood), one gets the distinct impression that this current exhibit is the best thing that has happened to GTC in quite a while.  And that, save an intervention from on high – inshallah – the venerable theatre will continue its downward death spiral.  This centenary is Year Zero – what comes now is anyone's guess.

Photos thanks to Instituto Cervantes Tangèr.

Gerald Loftus

Madrid 10, Tangier 0: Victory for All

TALIM Tanger Gool
If skydiving in a hijab presents no problems to certain intrepid Muslim women, then why should kicking a football around while wearing a headscarf make some European referees lose their cool?

These were not, however, the concerns behind the organizers of Saturday's friendly match between the women's teams of Atletico Madrid (10) and (0, ouch!)Tangier's Gazelles du Detroit.  No, the whole point – the gool, as the Spanish would say – was to serve as the backdrop for a film on Tangier's soccer madness – for Spanish football, that is.  Just try to rouse anyone away from the TV screens of Tangier's cafes when Barca and Madrid are facing off.

Spanish film maker Juan Gautier is making Tanger Gool, and what better star to choose than Tangier's own Soufia Issami, who made such an impression in the 2011 On the Edge (Sur la Planche), also shot in Tangier.

Bravo to Spain's Cervantes Institute for (a) organizing Gautier's film and the women's match and (b), for mounting a great digital photography course, which went on a Saturday field trip to cover the match.  The Legation's budding photojournalist Mohammed Jadidi (below, in a great picture by photography teacher Paco Rodriguez) was part of the scene.

TALIM Mohammed Jadidi photographer

Gerald Loftus