HE Mr. Abderrahim Beyyoudh (pictured below right), Head ad interim of the Liaison Office of the Kingdom of Morocco in the State of Israel delivered the opening remarks at this year's Shaul Ben-Simhon Prize for the Research of North African Jewry ceremony on BGU's Marcus Family Campus on Wednesday afternoon. Morocco returned a diplomatic envoy to Israel after a gap of 21 years in the wake of the Abraham Accords that normalized relations between Morocco and Israel. Diplomatic relations will be upgraded in the future to embassies in both countries. It was HE Mr. Beyyoudh's first visit to an Israeli university.
"The preservation of Judaism in Morocco is very close to our hearts and the hearts of our kings and sultans. It is the keystone of the multi-cultural identity of Moroccans. Because of its importance, we have resumed our relations with Israel and we will not spare any effort to strengthen those relations and build on what we have, " HE Mr. Beyyoudh said.
He also applauded BGU's ties to Morocco.
"Your vision closely parallels His Majesty Mohammed VI's vision to preserve Jewish heritage in Morocco. What you are doing today and what you are doing in Agadir is essential to preserving that history," he added.
"The connection between the Kingdom of Morocco and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is a natural, given both our desert locations and BGU's connection to our local community, many of whom originated from the famous Moroccan Jewish Community. I am confident that as we learn about each other's strengths and interests, we will hear of additional connections between BGU and Morocco in the near future," commented BGU President Prof. Daniel Chamovitz.
One of the provisions of the Abraham Accords was increased academic collaborations. As a result, BGU's Dr. Orit Ouaknine-Yekutieli, head of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy and the Ben-Gurion University Foundation for the Research of North African Jewry has been invited to conduct joint research with Moroccan researchers at Jewish sites in southern Morocco.
“His Excellency Mr. Beyyoudh's participation emphasizes the importance the Kingdom of Morocco puts on maintaining its connections with the Moroccan Jewish Diaspora in Israel. These informal ties stretch back years, and now, with the signing of the Accord, they are receiving institutional recognition," said Dr. Ouaknine-Yekutieli.
The Shaul Simhon Prize for the Research of North African Jewry is the premier research prize in the field and has been awarded annually since 2017. It is funded by the World Organization of North African Jewry and by Ben-Gurion University.
This year, the award was given to Prof. Haim Saadoun of the Open University and Yad Ben-Zvi. Prof. Saadoun delivered a keynote address entitled “Mordechai Newman had Arrived in Peace" – the Story of a Telegram, from Micro to Macro".
The Annual Ronit Ivgi Prize for Production in the Realms of Culture and Art of North African Jews went to the author Asher Knafo. Prof. Meir Buzaglo, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Tikkun movement, presented the author and his works to the audience.
Finally, three graduate students were awarded scholarships: Yona Abeddour, Haim Bitton and Yosi Toledano.
Other notable attendees included: Mr. Raphael (Rapha) Ben-Shushan, Chair, and Mr. Eli Allalouf of the World Organization of North African Jewry; Atty. David Yadid, Head, the Friends Association of the Ben-Simhon Foundation for the Research of North African Jewry; Mr. Jackie Kadoche, President, Jewish community of Marrakesh, Morocco and Mr. André Gomel, Vice President, Friends Association of Moroccan Jewry.
About the Prize Recipients:
Prof. Haim Saadoun is an expert in Jews of Arab Lands in the Modern Era. He is a member of the Open University and the director of Yad Itzhak Ben-Zvi Institute's Documentation Center of North African Jews during WW2. He is the founding editor of the Series “Jewish Communities in the East in the 19th and 20th Centuries". He has written and edited 15 books and dozens of articles on Jews in Muslim lands, especially North Africa. He has also served as a consultant to international organizations involved in Holocaust research.
Asher Knafo is an Israeli author, educator and editor. He was born, raised and educated in Essaouira, Morocco. He made Aliyah in 1951. He was an Israeli envoy to Italy, France and Panama. He also served as the head of social education of the southern district in the Ministry of Education. He founded “Ziv Hama'arav": The Association for the Preservation of North African Jewish Heritage whose activities led to the formation of the Andalusian Orchestra. He has written and edited a number of books which deal with the heritage and culture of the Jews of Morocco. Among his books: “The Baby from Oufran", which was the first Israeli book translated and published in Morocco, “Yachin", “A Cantor in the Public Bathhouse", “Tea with Mint", “The Lyricist, the Taciturn and the Storyteller", “The Violin and I", and the book of poetry “What are These Words". He is also the editor of the bilingual journal of the Jews of Morocco “Brit".
Yona (Yunis) Abeddour, Department of Middle East Studies. Research topic: “Negotiating and Performing Moroccan Identities: Second- and Third-Generation Moroccan Jewish Immigrants to France and Israel"
Haim Bitton, Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism. Research topic: “Community between the Windowpanes: The Transit Camps in Algeria, Morocco and France – Diplomacy, Organization, Oversight, Training and Traces in Personal and Collective Memory 1947-1956"
Yosi Toledano, Department of Middle East Studies. Research topic: “The Al-Huria Newspaper: Modern Jewish Discourse and Processes of Change in Colonial Morocco"
“The Foundation for the Research of North African Jewry enables the creation and distribution of significant and accessible academic knowledge about North African Jewry, its cultural wealth, the special role they played in their homeland and in Israel," Dr. Ouaknine-Yekutieli concluded, “Cultivating North African Jewish heritage will introduce the wider public to the cultural wealth of this community."