FEZ – It had served over the years as a prison, a carpet factory and a boxing gym. But last week, the building in this ancient Moroccan city's central medina was officially returned to its original incarnation: the Slat-al-Fassiyine synagogue was inaugurated by King Mohammed VI after a long-anticipated restoration.
Rare in the Arab world to see political leaders shower so much attention on the reopening of a Jewish holy place, many top government officials were on hand to inaugurate the 17th century synagogue in the ancient Fez quartier that is classified as a World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
The event was a reminder of how important Judaism is in the history of Morocco, and was the latest effort by the country's leaders to promote religious tolerance. King Mohammed was the driving force in the event, and gave a speech before leaders of Morocco's Jewish community, as well as representatives of the German government, which helped finance the restoration.
“It’s precisely this Jewish specificity that constitutes today, following the kingdom’s new constitution, one of the timeless sources of national identity," the King said. "This is why we call for the renovation of every Jewish temple in the kingdom, so that they won’t simply be holy places, but also spaces for cultural dialogue and renewal of the founding values of this land.”
The Judeo-Moroccan Patrimony Foundation's President Serge Berdugo noted the "message of peace and tolerance" in the restoration.
"Slat-al-Fassiyine teaches us a beautiful lesson. It represented the past, bound to disappear," Berdugo said. "Its restoration process anticipated the future, and that future is now. Moroccan Judaism’s time has come. It’s a motherly community, aware of its history and full of projects for the times to come. This community is part of the Moroccan reality. It can fully enjoy its civic rights, religious freedom and full conscience of its responsibilities.”