Saved by Shabbat


by S. Olidort - CASABLANCA, MORROCO

May 29, 2003

“Saved by Shabbat,” says Chabad Rabbi Leib Raskin, referring to the miracle that occurred in Casablanca on the fateful Friday evening two weeks ago.

Earlier that Friday 25 Jewish tourists were turned away from an overbooked hotel in the city’s center. In a separate incident, an Israeli group’s request to dine at the kosher restaurant nearby was refused; the owner wanted to spend the Shabbat at home, with his family. Nobody gave either incident much thought until terror struck that evening in the heart of Casablanca.

Aimed at Jewish targets adjacent to a Chabad institution, the terrorist attacks left 41 people dead, and scores injured. Not a single Jew was hurt; none were in the vicinity. Anti-Jewish attacks aren’t new to this community that traces its existence back 2,000 years, but for Raskin, who settled in Casablanca 40 odd years ago, the miracle was one of historic proportions.

Back in 1950, the Lubavitcher Rebbe appointed Rabbi Michoel Lipskar, the first Chabad emissary to settle in Casablanca. His mission, the Rebbe instructed, would be to strengthen Jewish commitment among the city’s 80,000 Jews. When Raskin arrived a decade later, Chabad was already overseeing the operation of some 70 religious, educational, and social institutions across the city.

But the possibilities for easier Jewish living outside of Morocco were tempting, and new generations of Jews began to emigrate, en masse, to Israel, France, and Canada, among other countries. The sizeable Jewish community was fast shrinking, but Chabad remained to provide those who couldn’t, or wouldn’t leave, with the means for a lively Jewish experience.

Today, only 5,000 Jews are left in Casablanca. At its peak, there were 1,800 children enrolled in Chabad schools, and hundreds more involved in its after-school and summer activities. Now Chabad’s educational system serves 150 children, and as young couples continue to emigrate, the numbers continue to dwindle. For most community leaders it would be enough to warrant a move, to seek out a new position elsewhere, or retire. Not for Raskin.

Rabbi Raskin is unwavering in his commitment to Moroccan Jewry, pointing to the Lubavitcher Rebbe as the sustaining force behind Chabad’s work in Morocco. A man of unbendable faith, Raskin insists that “there is still much work to be done here.” As long as there is even a single Jew living in Morocco, he says, Chabad will carry on.

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