In a narrow alleyway at the entrance to the old neighborhood of Essaouira, there is a small bazaar selling books and antiques. The owner of this bazaar is Joseph Sabbagh, a Moroccan Jew from the city of Essaouira. Like many other Moroccan Jews he was born and raised here and chose to stay at a time where many from his community chose to go live in Israel.
The inner space of Bazar Joseph al-Sabbagh attests to the peaceful coexistence between Jews and Muslims in the city of Essaouira since ancient times, and confirms the words of his Muslim assistant who has been working for him in the bazaar for many years. The latter says of Joseph, “A very good man.”
Joseph Al-Sabbagh has repeatedly spoke to international media about the strong relationship he has with the Muslims of Essaouira. His Muslim assistant at the bazar calls him Yusef (Arabic for Joseph) and says about their relationship “There is no difference between us, I am a Muslim and he is a Jew, but we are the same.” Adding “The Jews who used to live in Essaouira are very good people, I wish they had stayed here.”
Although most of the Jews who were born in the city have left, the coexistence and tolerance that characterized the relationship between Jews and Muslims is still felt throughout the city. This coexistence is not limited to Jews and Muslims but extends to Christians as well.
In the city of Essaouira there is a large Jewish cemetery, and next to it is a cemetery for Christians. Their doors are open on a big street where the city’s Muslims walk everyday. This scene is witness to an exceptional coexistence between the followers of the three Abrahamic religions who lived in the city for hundreds of years.
Although Most Moroccan Jews have left the city of Essaouira decades ago, their relationship with the city continues unabated. They come to visit their relatives who are buried in the Jewish cemetery. Every year on September 26th Jews from all over the world come to the city for the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Chaim Pinto.
The Jewish cemetery is guarded by a young Muslim man. His mother Malika works as a guard of the Temple of Haim Pinto, located in the center of the old City neighborhood of El Mallah.
Given Mailka’s experience in arranging visits, she takes over from her son when there is a large number of visitors to the cemetry. She and her son inherited the task of guarding the Jewish cemetery and the Temple of Haim Pinto from her parents and grand parents. She says that being a Muslim does not prevent her from performing her mission.
About 300 feets from the temple, which is guarded by Malika Eidros in the Al-Mallah neighborhood, there is a synagogue called “STAL LKAHAL”. In the city of Essaouira there are 32 synagogues for Jews and 7 mosques for Muslims, according to researcher Omar Lakhdar in his book “MOGADOR: memoire d’une ville” (Mogador: the memory of a city). Mogador is the name of the city of Essaouira during the Roman empire. On the land of this small city there are churches for Christians. “You will not find this anywhere other than Essaouira,” commented Hafid Sadiq, a historian, with enthusiasm for this coexistence between the followers of the three Abrahamic religions.