Judeo-Moroccan culture shared through art

From left, Allen Azoulay, photographer Aaron Vincent Elkaim, Communauté Juive Marocaine de Toronto president Simon Keslassy, CJMT secretary Claire Benezra and artist Prosper Trojman    [Digital Joe Photography photo]

TORONTO — An exhibition of Jewish Moroccan art and relics is part of Toronto’s first-ever weeklong festival celebrating 2,000 years of Jewish life in Morocco and 50 years of Canadian-Moroccan diplomatic relations.

The exhibit, created by the Communauté Juive Marocaine de Toronto (CJMT), aims to preserve Jewish Moroccan culture as well as educate viewers.

 “They’ll learn about our culture, our heritage,” said Claire Benezra, the chair of the exhibition and secretary of the CJMT. She hopes the greater community, as well as younger generations of Moroccan Jews, will visit and learn from the exhibit.

The opening of the art and artifact show was marked with a reception at Glendon College, where members of the community were invited to view the pieces, learn about Sephardi history in Morocco and enjoy refreshments.

The gallery room houses a collection of paintings by Jewish Moroccan artist Prosper Trojman and photographs of Jewish life in Morocco by Aaron Vincent Elkaim, as well as various family heirlooms and artifacts brought from Morocco, including traditional ceremonial clothing, a shofar, a kiseh Eliyahu, chanukiyot, jewelry, art and books.

The rich texture of Trojman’s paintings of Moroccan Judaica and the lush emerald-green fabric of the outfit on display, worn by brides at the traditional henna party before the wedding, give a taste of the vibrant culture of Moroccan Jews.

Many of the artifacts were brought for display by families in Toronto. Benezra herself displayed drawings that her father had made in Morocco.

 She said the cultural celebration, sponsored by the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, the Canadian Sephardic Federation, Friends of the Simon Weisenthal Center and private donors, has brought together the 18,000-strong Moroccan-Jewish community in the city.

“[It’s] very exciting,” she said. “[I’m] very happy to have this contact with the whole community. You have a feeling of togetherness that you didn’t have before.”

Simon Keslassy, the president of the CJMT, added that he hopes the togetherness will extend beyond the Moroccan and Sephardi community. “We want the Ashkenazis and the students of the university to see the rich [Judeo Moroccan] patrimony,” he said.

Keslassy, whose father was a jeweller in Mogador (now Essaouira), Morocco, proudly displayed a 120-year-old bracelet that has been in his family for generations. He also brought in a framed kabbalistic text given to him by the Moroccan Jewish community in Israel.

For Allen (Yehuda) Azoulay, a proponent of Sephardi heritage and education and a contributor to the artifacts exhibit, the importance of educating younger generations about their culture is vital. “It’s something to be proud of and to share,” he said.

He’s “very concerned” that the ancient customs and the history of Moroccan Jews could be lost if future generations do not get interested and involved. Azoulay said that the CJMT celebration is an important step in sharing and passing on the culture. “The tradition is still going on,” he said. “We just have to maintain it.”

The exhibit will be on display at Glendon College until June 28. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.cjmt.org.