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Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Taste of Morocco

Tucked away behind store fronts and a newly-built apartment complex on Jerusalem's King David Street is one of the first buildings to be constructed by Jews outside the Old City walls. A narrow path from the busy road leads into a another world and a delightful courtyard replete with fountains and splendid Moroccan mosaics. The neighborhood is the Mahane Israel quarter, also known as Mughrabim or Mamilla. The building houses The International Heritage Center for North African Jewry which celebrates in a most resplendent and ornate style the extensive contributions of the North African Diaspora.
A beautifully-carved door conceals the four-storey building in the form of a painstakingly reconstructed Moroccan palace featuring architectural motifs from Morocco and the Andalusia Alhambra Palace.  Expert artisans in zellige – the mosaic floor and wall coverings – were brought from Morocco to Jerusalem to create the absolutely authentic atmosphere and surroundings of back home for them and that which hundreds of thousands of Jews left behind but never forgot.
Elaborately carved cedar wood beams, imported from the Atlas Mountains, and great expanses of decorative stucco walls and arches leave one in awe - and with a stiff neck from looking up in order to absorb the true beauty of the intricate work of the artisans Spanish-Moorish style.

Breathtaking craftsmanship of Moroccan artisans in Jerusalem

Leading off the central patio on all levels are spacious exhibition halls showing artworks and photographs with texts detailing the period of history depicted.  Apart from a library, the building is full of furniture, carpeting, vessels, clothing, - to help conjure up a picture of the richness of Jewish life in the Magreb for those Ashkenazi outsiders like myself.  The fourth floor contains a music room and audiovisual centre which screens a short film of the delights of Morocco which made me want to travel there immediately!
Even though the Heritage Centre was opened over a year ago, it is still somewhat of a hidden gem to Israelis and overseas visitors. Groups of 10 or more can arrange a tour of the building (in Hebrew, French or English) by contacting Natalie at (02) 6235811. There is no access to individuals at this stage.
(My thanks to Jill Rosenfield for her pictures and
Lydia Aisenberg for text)

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