Introduction / History Morocco has the largest Jewish settlement in North Africa. Most are descendants of the Jews who fled medieval Spain during a time of severe persecution. They were isolated in special quarters called mellahs and forced to wear costumes that identified them as Jews. Their position improved in the early 1900s. By 1948, there were over 250,000 Jews in Morocco. However, due to a sense of uneasiness regarding Moroccan relations with Israel, most Jews immigrated to Israel, France, or the USA.
The immigration of Jews into South Africa began in the early 1800s when they were given freedom of religious expression. The first Hebrew congregation was established in Cape Town in 1841. Jews played an important part in the development of South African trade and industry. They were among the pioneers in the Transvall region when diamonds and gold were discovered. However, today's Jewish majority are the descendants of immigrants from Lithuania who arrived in South Africa in the early 1900s. The history of Zimbabwe's Jewish community almost parallels that of the South African Jews.
What are their lives like? In Morocco, there are small pockets of Jews who trace their lineage back to the Roman days. These have withdrawn to the interior, living in hillside villages or even in the desert. Their language is a mixture of Hebrew, Arabic, and various Berber dialects.
Most Moroccan Jews live in coastal cities and belong to the upper middle class, enjoying a comfortable economic status. Often referred to as Sephardic, they speak to one another in a form of Arabic that borrows from Hebrew, Spanish, and French. Some have served as special advisors to the king or as appointed political ministers. Neither the government nor the media express anti-Jewish feelings, but a rising number of Islamic fundamentalists have initiated anti-Israel sentiments, affecting the Jewish residents.
While they no longer live in the mellahs, the Moroccan Jews have not assimilated into the surrounding culture. Intermarriage is almost unheard of. The younger generation tends to go abroad for education and seldom returns to Morocco. As a result, the Jewish population in this region is aging and dwindling. The community has developed a traditional festival, the Mimunah, which is an annual pilgrimage to the tombs of famous rabbis in Morocco. This is similar to the Christian pilgrimages to tombs of Christian saints.
The Jews of South Africa are almost overwhelmingly Ashkenazi. That is, they are the descendants of Jews who lived in the Germanic region of Europe. While there has been a significant stream of Jews out of South Africa in recent years, there has also been a steady flow of Jews (although not as many) into South Africa from Israel. An aging population and a steady emigration of its younger members are two factors that make the future of the South African Jewish community uncertain.
The Jews of South Africa are affluent, well educated, and have a strong traditional and Zionist bent. The welfare of its aging population is a chief concern, so major efforts have been made in establishing welfare organizations and building retirement homes. As in many Diaspora communities, education is the key to building the Jewish identity into the younger generation. Most of the Jewish youth are in comprehensive Jewish day schools. Most of the schools are Orthodox, but several are ultra-Orthodox. Jewish museums, libraries, and periodicals are also important tools that reinforce the community's identity.
What are their beliefs? For religious Jews, God is the Supreme Being, the Creator of the universe, and the ultimate Judge of human affairs. Beyond this, the religious beliefs of the Jewish communities vary greatly. The Moroccan Jews are religious, but very tolerant within the spectrum of Judaism. No religious extremism has developed. South African Jews are religiously traditional and the great majority are affiliated with one of the 65 Orthodox synagogues in the nation. A small percentage is within the Masorati (conservative) movement. Kosher (traditional, acceptable) food is widely available and there are several kosher restaurants and hotels.
What are their needs? The Jews have a wonderful understanding of their connection with the Abrahamic covenant. However, they also have a history of rejecting Jesus Christ as Messiah, the one who has fulfilled that covenant. Pray that as the Gospel is shared, it will not be viewed as anti-Semitic, but rather as the fulfillment of what God promised humanity through Abraham centuries ago.
Prayer Points * Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth loving Christians to work among the African Jewish communities.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to the missions agencies that are focusing on the African Jews.
* Pray that the Jewish people will understand that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah.
* Ask the Lord to soften the hearts of the Jews towards Christians so that they might hear and receive the message of salvation.
* Pray that God will grant Jewish believers favor as they share their faith in Christ with their own people.
* Pray that strong local churches will be raised up among the African Jews.