AJU professor, Michael Berenbaum, Ph.D., participated in a conference on the Holocaust organized by a group of Muslim students on a Muslim campus on Muslim land. Against the backdrop of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spewing hatred and denying the Holocaust from the floor of the United Nations, on September 21 a group of students in Morocco gathered, not to deny the Holocaust, but rather to remember it.
The conference was the product of the Moadon Mimouna at Al Akhwayan University, an elite English-language college two hours outside of Rabat. The club is a student organization dedicated to Muslim, Christian and Jewish understanding and was founded and headed by Elmehdi Boudra, a young student with a special interest in Morocco's Jewish Heritage and intercultural dialogue. This was the third conference on Jewish life in Morocco sponsored by Boudra and his colleagues, but the first specifically on the Holocaust. The club's name, Mimouna, refers to a special connection between Moroccan Jews and Muslims. When more than a quarter of a million Jews lived in Morocco, it was the custom of Muslims to bake bread and pastries and sell them to Jews as darkness fell at the end of the eighth day of Passover, the first moment when Chametz was permissible. That evening was known in Morocco as Mimouna.
Boudra, now 24 years of age, partnered with Peter Geffen, the dynamic founder and executive director of Kivunim, a gap-year program that brings American high school graduates to Israel for a year of study and travel. Geffen believes that the best counterweight to Holocaust denial in the Arab world is to celebrate those in Arab lands who helped Jews and thus provide a positive role model for contemporary Muslims.
Together, Boudra and Geffen assembled Holocaust scholars and survivors, American Jewish and Moroccan Muslim students and two of the most prominent Jews in Morocco: Ambassador Serge Berdugo, an Ambassador-at-Large of the King of Morocco who is also his advisor on Jewish affairs, and Andre Azoulay, the King's economic advisor. The twin objectives of the conference were to teach about the extermination of European Jewry and to pay homage to the courage of Morocco's wartime king, Mohammed V, who resisted orders from the Vichy French occupation government to round up and turn over Jews for interment and, possibly, death.
Dr. Berenbaum, an eminent Holocaust historian, spoke of the Jewish genocide in Europe and the tide that Mohammed V succeeded in holding back in his nation. In addition to serving as Director of the Sigi Ziering Institute, a think tank at American Jewish University that explores the ethical and religious implications of the Holocaust, he is a writer, lecturer, teacher and consultant in the conceptual development of museums and the creation of historical films.