200414 Morocco
A factory worker packages disposable protective masks along a production line in Morocco's Casablanca on April 10, 2020, as the North African country increases mask production due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Image Credit: AFP

Rabat: Morocco’s small Jewish community has been hit hard by the coronavirus, losing 12 of its members after a wedding and a religious ceremony last month — 10 per cent of the kingdom’s total deaths.

In early March, days before the country announced a lockdown to stem the spread of the virus, members of the community attended a wedding in the coastal city of Agadir, “along with guests from abroad”, said community leader Serge Berdugo.

“A few days later, they met again to celebrate the festival of Purim in Casablanca, and it was a tragedy,” he said.

The 12 who died included an 83-year-old rabbi, Shalom Edelman, and three relatives of the head of Israel’s Labour party, Amir Peretz.

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Peretz confirmed their deaths on his Facebook page and wrote that the pandemic had prevented him from visiting Morocco to attend their funerals.

Berdugo, who is head of the Council of the Jewish Community of Morocco, said several dozen people who had been infected were now “on the road to recovery”.

The community, which numbers between 2,500 and 3,000, was “extremely reassured by the attitude, competence and compassion of the medical services. We are very proud to be Moroccans,” he added.

More than 1,800 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 illness have been reported in Morocco since the onset of the pandemic, with 126 deaths.

Jews have had a presence in the North African kingdom for centuries, even before the Catholic re-conquest saw them expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492.

In the 1940s, they numbered some quarter of a million, around a tenth of the population, but many headed to Israel after it was founded in 1948.

Today, they still make up North Africa’s biggest Jewish community.

Moroccan authorities often highlight their country’s tradition of tolerance and have worked to rehabilitate Jewish cemeteries and synagogues.

Like most Arab states, Morocco has no official relations with Israel, but Israeli Jews visit every year to see the land of their ancestors or mark religious festivals.