By DAHMANI YOUSSEF LATIFA BABAS | Yabiladi
Since he left for the United States in 2006, Mohamed El Aissaoui has been working to introduce Moroccan heritage, especially the one of the Jewish community, through the organization of meetings, gatherings and cultural activities. His activities caught the attention of royal adviser André Azoulay.
When Salé-native Mohamed El Aissaoui immigrated to the United States, he knew how to adapt to his new life in the Big Apple. In 2005, when he graduated from Mohammed V University in Rabat, he decided to pursue his studies overseas.
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After working as an assistant manager in Salé, he left for New York in 2006. Excited with this new adventure, El Aissaoui said that «New Yok was a special state». «It is a melting pot for immigrants from all over the world, so integration was easy for me», he told Yabiladi.
Mohamed quickly adapted to the New York way of life and felt welcomed by the «big Arab and Moroccan community present in the city». Thanks to his then-friend who eventually became his wife, Mohamed did not feel like a fish out of water.
According to him, «integration is linked to the human personality. If you are an introvert, you will face many problems. If you are an extrovert, you will make friends quickly».
Shortly after settling down in the United States, Mohamed, alongside a group of Moroccan students, formed a group to get to know each other and to help each other. «The group was a way for us to meet (…) Our families in Morocco and the group were helping us get over loneliness. Through it, we were sharing problems and finding solutions».
A group to feel united
Although they left university a long time ago, the group of friends remained close and expanded to include Moroccans residing in the United States. It eventually started organizing activities related to Moroccan culture, including the Jewish one.
Then, along with other Moroccans, Mohamed created and became the president of association «Moroccan Americans in New York», which included Moroccan members of both Muslim and Jewish faiths. As is the case with the first group, this association kept organizing activities to introduce the Jewish-Moroccan heritage and celebrate Jewish festivities and celebrations.
Mohammed explained that his interest in the Moroccan Jewish heritage goes back to his childhood in Salé. In the city, bordering Morocco’s capital, he grew up in a neighborhood near the Jewish cemetery. «The Jews used to come visit and I was wondering why they left and why they no longer live next to us», he recalled.
Celebrating the Moroccan-Jewish heritage
While looking for a job opportunity in New York, Mohamed was interviewed by a woman. «I was not that good at English at the time and I thought that I would not get the job», he said. «But the lady asked for my country and when I told her ‘Morocco’, it turned out that she was a Moroccan Jew from Essaouira (…) she asked me get ready for my new job and was very interested in my profile», he added.
Mohamed, who currently works for a non-governmental organization in New York, said that the association in which he is active has signed a partnership with a large organization called the American Sephardi Federation, and this partnership has allowed the organization to set up a number of activities that mostly focus on Moroccan heritage.
He added that Royal Counselor André Azoulay heard of «the activities that we organize, and he attended one of them in 2017». «He was delighted to see Moroccan Muslims and Jews under one roof, as was the case in the past in the Kingdom, where everyone lived in coexistence and harmony for centuries. He spent three hours with us», he recalled.
Thus, Mohamed El Aissaoui felt connected to the Moroccan Jewish community in the USA. «The second and third generation of Moroccan Jews are very attached to the homeland of their fathers and grandfathers».
In addition to introducing Moroccan culture in the US, the association works to help some Moroccans in remote villages across the Atlas Mountains. Starting from 2013, the NGO has been collecting «clothes to send them to villages in the Atlas Mountains». «We were a group of young people, and we rented a minibus and a store to put the clothes in».
«We went to a man to rent a shop and when we told him about our initiative he refused to take money from us», Mohamed recalled. «I told him that we have the money to rent the place, when he heard that he stood up and put his hand on his chest and said with an angry voice : I am a Moroccan Jew and Morocco my country will not receive your money».
During the current health crisis, Mohamed and members of the association are trying to help Moroccans stuck in the United States, providing them with food and shelter.
He said that he intended to go to Morocco during the month of February but following the health crisis, he had to «postpone traveling to March in order to participate in a conference organized by the Maymoona Association and the American Sephardi Federation in the Kingdom».
«I was supposed to speak at the conference that was about ‘Jews in Africa’ and my experience in the US, but with the spread of the corunavirus the conference was canceled», he regretted.
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