Diverse Reactions to the

"Morocco" show at the

Jewish Museum


Members and friends of Ivri-NASAWI reveal a spectrum of opinion (posted in the order received).

Your reactions will be posted continuously throughout the months of October and November, 2000.
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The Moroccan exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York was very disappointing as Habiba and Dalia's perceptive and thoughtful review clearly indicates. I was first struck by the fact that the exhibit substitutes visual beauty for explanation.  Nowhere is there much explanation of the use and context of the ritual and ordinary objects on display. What did they mean? How were they used? Can we decode the symbols? What were the films about --evocative, to be sure, but no help in understanding the country or its cultures.

It is also clear, as the review points out,  that  visitors who know nothing of Morocco will come away with their Orientalist prejudices firmly and fully supported--not only by the inclusion but placement of the Delacroix 
paintings, but also because the Moroccan Jews are presented in a kind of timeless anthropological limbo with no attempt to provide any indication of how they live today..To be sure, there are a few photographs from the 20's
and 30's of  some in modern clothing, but there is nothing about  their contemporary life. 

I also thought that the explanation for the exodus of the Jews and the role of the Moroccan government in saving the Jews should have been presented at the beginning -- rather than the end of the show.  But  the principal criticism, as the review points out, is the perspective which freezes the people in a kind of mythic anthropological pasts and presents them from an Orientalist perspective.

We need to understand how and why cultures change even as they persist; how people transform themselves in new circumstances; what remains and why and this kind of exhibit while pleasant enough to eye really misses the point. 

Thanks, Habiba, and Dalia, for your knowledgable and sensitive review.....  

Gloria Levitas,  Ph.D., retired  Anthropologist from Queens college

When I met with curator Vivian Mann early in 1999, in Los Angeles, I conveyed my concern that the exhibit on Moroccan Jews work to show our culture in its proper context; that is, with both the traditional and intellectual aspects intact. My fear was that if American Jews, who already possess an Orientalist perspective about the Middle East and about the Jews of Arab/Muslim lands in particular, were to go through a show and see little else but Jews in djellabahs, hamsas and other ornamental objects, that we would be exoticized. Dr. Mann assured me that she was working with some of the finest experts available, including Daniel Schroeter and Moshe Idel, and that the exhibit and the exhibition catalogue would be an accurate depiction of Moroccan Jewish life up till recent times. I have not yet seen the show, but based on the images the museum is releasing and the feedback I've received, Moroccan Jews are not experienced in the full range of their expression. To complement this show and correct what it lacks (very little in the way of commentary on contemporary Moroccan Jewish writing, philosophy or fine art, for example), we have organized two supplemental events which are in part publicized by the Jewish Museum, to its credit. The first, on Oct. 17 (see Calendar) features Ammiel Alcalay with a talk at the King Juan Carlos Center at NYU, the second, on Nov. 12, features three scholars on Morocco, Gil Anidjar, Alegria Bendelac and Habiba Boumlik. Stay tuned.

Jordan Elgrably, writer, Los Angeles

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