Jewish burial site restored off African coast

PRAIA, Cape Verde (JTA) – A ceremony in the island state of Cape Verde rededicated a Jewish burial plot renovated by the king of Morocco, among other benefactors.

“The support of King Moroccan VI to this project is representative of Morocco’s attachment to the preservation of its patrimony — Arab, Jewish or Berber,” Andre Azoulay, the king’s Jewish advisor, wrote in a statement read aloud during the ceremony by Abdellah Boutadghart, a Moroccan diplomat.

About 100 people attended the ceremony Thursday.

Several hundred Jews from Morocco settled in Cape Verde off the Senegalese coast in the 19th century, when it was still a Portuguese colony. 

The community has since disappeared, but the Moroccan government has been a “major benefactor” to efforts to preserve their heritage, according to Carol Castiel of the Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project, the nonprofit which launched initiative.

“Just imagine: A Muslim king contributing to a Jewish project in a Christian country. I think it says it all,” she said.

Situated at the heart of the Cape Verde’s largest cemetery, the Jewish burial plot is set apart by a low-hanging chain that encircles its 10 restored headstones, dated 1864 to 1918. The rededication ceremony was concluded with a prayer by Eliezer Di Martino, the rabbi of the Jewish Community of Lisbon.

“It was a very moving and surreal event,” one of the project’s Jewish donors, the Casablanca-born American businessman Marc Avissar, told JTA. 

The project has so far cost about $125,000 but may end up costing three times that amount as efforts continue to restore additional Jewish heritage sites in other parts of Cape Verde, a republic made up of 10 islands.

Need to know? Click here to sign up for JTA’s free e-newsletters.

Click to write a letter to the editor.