Thousands of Jewish pilgrims pray in Morocco

AFP , Sunday 13 May 2012

Thousands of Jews from Morocco, Israel and other parts of the world have over the past week carried out an annual pilgrimage to the Islamic nation to honour celebrated rabbis

A Jewish woman prays for blessings as she buries her face in the colourful scarves pinned on the Grand Menorah in the blue-tiled El Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba, May 10, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

Morocco may not be the likeliest of Jewish pilgrim destinations, but the north African nation has for centuries had a vibrant Jewish population and some 1,200 of the faith's pious ancestors are buried in cemeteries here. In recent days, about 5,000 pilgrims have gathered to pray for peace at sanctuaries and gravesites.

Perhaps the most famous of these burial grounds is that of Amran Ben Diwan, a venerated rabbi who was interred 250 years ago in the mountains of Ouazzane, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of the capital Rabat.

Ben Diwan's tomb, nestled in a Jewish cemetery among acres of olive trees, was placed under police guard and only people who had been authorised by Morocco's Jewish community were allowed access.
The pilgrimage will finish Saturday, following five days of prayers and celebration, with pilgrims hurling candles into a large fire by Ben Diwan's tomb.

Morocco's Jewish population dwindled dramatically with the creation of Israel and now only a few thousand remain.

Neighbouring Tunisia has a small Jewish population too, and a famous synagogue there in 2002 was the target of an Al-Qaeda claimed suicide attack that killed 21 people, most of them German tourists.
Many pilgrims have since then given Tunisia a wide berth.

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