Being Jewish while Studying Abroad in Rabat, Morocco

Mariama Regaignon headshot
Mariama Regaignon
December 11, 2023

Being a Jewish student in a Muslim country was something I was nervous for, but overall I have felt extremely welcomed and accommodated by the people of Morocco, so I wanted to share my experience to encourage other Jewish students who are hesitant to study abroad in a Muslim country. I also had the unique experience of being Jewish in a Muslim country during heightened political tensions because of Israel’s ongoing violence in Gaza, and I wanted to share my experiences regarding antisemitism as well as how I was able to practice the holidays that have occurred during my time abroad.

First of all, Morocco has a long and rich history of Jewish culture, which I didn’t fully know before my decision to study abroad here. (I was able to research the history of the emigration of Moroccan Jews, largely to Israel, in the 60s and 70s with my internship with the Rabita des Oulémas, and strongly encourage anyone interested to investigate, as it’s a fascinating topic.) Because of this history, there’s a strong appreciation for Jewish culture among many educated Moroccans, and when discussing my Jewishness with many of the Moroccans I've met, they've been more than happy to meet me and learn about my religion and culture, as well as to tell me about Morocco’s Jewish history. I've felt extremely welcomed and safe. There have been a few instances of microaggressions, but they've occurred at a very similar rate to what I’ve experienced in high school and college in the United States. While I did have some concern for antisemitism when Israel began bombing Gaza, I was in the Parliament building area the day of the largest pro-Palestine protest in Rabat, wearing my Star of David necklace, and didn’t receive any comments. No has one said anything unsolicited to me about Israel over the whole semester. I found that my own prejudices regarding antisemitism in Muslim countries have in fact been challenged, and I've felt very welcomed and accommodated.

During my time abroad, I've been able to observe Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Chanukah. I typically don’t observe Sukkot, so I can’t speak to the accessibility of those practices, but I was reasonably able to practice the holidays I did observe. For Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I was excused from classes, and I attended services in the morning at Rabat’s only active synagogue, which is located between the IES Abroad Rabat Center and the nearest part of the old medina. The service was entirely in Hebrew and my friend and I had to sit in the crowded women’s section, but it was nice to be part of the community. In the afternoon on both holidays, I was able to attend Zoom services for my synagogue at home, and the IES Abroad Rabat staff graciously kept the center open so I could use the WiFi. On Yom Kippur, my host family was of course incredibly accommodating regarding my fast, and my host mom even served dates and milk with dinner, which is how the fast during Ramadan is traditionally broken in Morocco. 

For Chanukah, I did have trouble finding a candle chanukiah (a lot of judaica is sold in antique stores across Morocco, but I only found 7-candle menorahs and oil chanukiahs). My friend and I ended up purchasing a beautiful oil chanukiah for about $40 or 400 MAD from a store on Rue des Consuls in Rabat and lit it for about half the nights (we traveled on the weekend!). If you end up doing the same thing and don’t have wicks, I recommend twisting or braiding together a few strands of sewing thread, which you can buy in many stores across the old medina. But what I would really recommend is bringing a small chanukiah from home if you’re planning to observe Chanukah abroad, since it was somewhat stressful to figure out.

Overall, I had a very positive experience being Jewish in Morocco. While there was an occasional uncomfortable comment and observing the holidays was a little logistically challenging, the appreciation of most Moroccans for Jewish culture and religion was deeply touching and I really enjoyed researching Morocco's Jewish history. If you are feeling hesitant about studying abroad in a Muslim country as a Jewish student, based on my own experience, I would highly encourage you to do it!

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Mariama Regaignon headshot

Mariama Regaignon

I'm from NYC and attend Bryn Mawr College near Philly! I'm passionate about film, social justice, backpacking, fashion, jewelry-making, reading, and plant-based cooking. When I'm at home I love exploring the city or hanging out with my two cats.

2023 Fall
Home University:
Bryn Mawr College
Religious Studies
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