In the Heart of the Atlas

Jews of Rural Moroccom Elias Harrus, Photographs 1940-1960

Opening: January 01, 1993

Exhibition Curator: Sara Hoshen-Harel

Exhibition Designer: Sarah Levin, David Gal

Life in the rural Jewish communities of Morocco that existed until fifty years ago now exists only in memory: the memory of those who left and that of those who remained, and the visual memory recorded in photographs and film footage. Personal objects, garments and work tools have now become ethnographic museum exhibits.

The Jewish communities in the Atlas mountains and the northern Sahara oases ceased to exist in the mid-1960s as a result of internal and external migration, mostly to Israel. These communities were among the most ancient and deeply-rooted of the Jewish diaspora communities, and according to some folk traditions, were founded almost 3000 years ago. In the mid-1940s the region still had more than one hundred and fifty mellhas, Jewish neighborhoods of the walled Berber villages.

Elias Harrus, an amateur photographer, frequented these communities as representative of the Alliance Israelite Universelle educational network. For over two decades he documented, on hundreds of rolls of film, the rural Jews and their world. Elias Harrus’ stand as a documenting photographer differed from that of other photographers active in Morocco at the time. The latter were usually Europeans traveling as scholars, collectors or ethnographers: foreigners viewing the exotic “other”; while Harrus, the native of a town in the middle Atlas and a graduate of the Alliance teachers’ college in Paris, belonged at one and the same time to two cultures indigenous and European. Thus, alongside a natural sense of beauty and composition, his photographs reflect empathy and intimate acquaintance with his subjects.

The literary quotations in the exhibition are from Inside Maghreb: the Jews in North Africa, by H.Z. Hirschberg, scholar of North African Jewry from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who toured Morocco in the spring of 1955.