Morocco  24 April until 18 September 2009

Photos by Elias Harrus and Pauline Prior

The exhibition Morocco: Photos by Elias Harrus and Pauline Prior features photos of the Jews of southern Morocco taken by Elias Harrus in the 1950s, just before they migrated en masse to Israel. In 2008, Dutch photographer Pauline Prior visited the region to photograph what remains of Morocco's Jewish heritage, and documented Jewish life in Casablanca today.

Elias Harrus, Pupils at a traditional religious school, a sla, Arghen Goundafi, Morocco, 1955. Photo: Beth Hatefutsoth, Tel Aviv
In his photos, Elias Harrus (1919-2008) depicted the everyday life of the Jews of southern Morocco in the years preceding their mass exodus to Israel. For centuries they had lived side by side with the Berbers of the region. Harrus was fascinated by these people, with whom he felt an intimate bond as a Moroccan Jew. His photos have an intensity that only an insider can achieve. Harrus was closely involved in the welfare of the Moroccan Jewish community, as is also shown by his photos of pupils at Alliance Israélite Universelle schools. He worked for this international Jewish organisation, dedicated to the emancipation of Jews in Muslim countries, throughout his life. 

Pauline Prior, Collective meal of food brought by pilgrims, Netivot, IsraelIn 2008, the Jewish Historical Museum commissioned Dutch photographer Pauline Prior to visit Morocco and to photograph the remains that testify to the centuries of Jewish life in the Atlas mountains and the Sahara. Prior also visited Casablanca, where a small Jewish community maintains the characteristic Moroccan Jewish traditions. These ancient customs are also kept up in the countries in which Moroccan Jews have settled. Prior photographed hillula ceremonies and celebrations in both Morocco and Israel marking the anniversary of the death of saints, deceaseda rabbis with reputed powers of intercession.

The photos and film fragments in the exhibition tell the tale of the migration of the Jews of Morocco to Israel and the factors that led to the end of the long sojourn of the Jews among the Berbers. The exhibition presents the history of the Jews of southern Morocco; the Jews of northern Morocco, beyond the Atlas mountains, are a different story. There, where Arab culture dominates, other historical factors determined the course of events.

The museum's education department makes a film in which Dutch Moroccan people are asked to give their reactions and stories upon seeing the photos taken by Elias Harrus and Pauline Prior.