167 Jewish sites and cemeteries saved by Muslim nation of Morocco; King Mohammed VI honored at New York Museum of Modern Art

At the New York Museum of Modern Art on November 19, distinguished guests from a multitude of faiths converged to pay tribute to King Mohammed VI of Morocco. The Moroccan royal was honored for his work in preservation of Jewish cemeteries in his mostly Muslim nation. King Mohammed’s efforts reflect how citizen and leadership majorities can still successfully join together in harmony to provide for the interests of minorities.

Attendance of this distinguished event was also a successful joining, with many religious dignitaries standing to applaud the king. His Eminence Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York, was present for the ceremony, as was His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. President of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, Rabbi Arthur Schneier lauded King Mohammed’s efforts, as did Imam Mohamed Hamagid, the Islamic Society of North America’s President.

Despite increasing tensions and ever present cultural stressors throughout the world, this convergence indicates the willingness of peoples from all faiths to work together for common good. Hosted by the Council of Jewish Communities of Morocco and produced in conjunction with religious leadership and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Thursday event proved well-attended by diverse peoples with the goal of honoring King Mohammed VI for his rehabilitation of Morocco’s Jewish cemeteries.

A photo journal produced as part of the cemetery rehabilitation project chronicles efforts from start to finish. The project has become known as “The House of Life.” The Conference of Presidents and King Mohammed hope that the photo collection will one day be exhibited within a museum such as the New York Museum of Modern Art.

Religious historic sites today often suffer the wrath of disrespect and wanton destruction. It is rare that one religious group will work diligently to restore damaged sites of another faith, as this project entailed. The House of Life is seen as a positive example of interfaith historic preservation in a time when so many faiths fail to find common ground or work together with mutual respect. It is a project of hope.

Launched in April 2010, the House of Life project of Morocco spent five full years rehabilitating Jewish cemeteries throughout the kingdom. King Mohammed VI oversaw efforts and directed the course of action for restoration of 167 Jewish burial places. As part of the project, 159 new doors were installed. 140,000 feet of fencing was constructed. Perhaps most heartrending, over 12,600 graves were repaired.

Of the project, Ambassador Serge Berdugo quoted the king as saying that House of Life is a testimony of the kingdom’s spiritual heritage, as well as its richness and diversity. The king paid tribute to the country’s Jewish legacy and called its rituals and other aspects an “intrinsic part of our country’s heritage for more than three thousand years.” He referred to the new Moroccan Constitution, wherein Hebrew heritage is recognized as a facet of the national identity.

As part of his speech, Rabbi Arthur Schneier noted appreciation and thankfulness for the work of His Majesty Mohammed VI. Schneier called him a “role model of interreligious peaceful coexistence between the children of Abraham.” Schneier then recognized united pursuit of tolerance and peace through diversity. He said, “United we shall prevail over the terrorist scourge that has metastasized, united we shall prevail over the wreckers of civilizations.”

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