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Jewish burial site restored off African coast

by Cnaan Liphshiz, JTA

May 3, 2013 | 10:35 am

A Jewish burial plot in the island state of Cape Verde was rededicated with help from the king of Morocco.

About 100 people attended the rededication ceremony Thursday.

“The support of King Mohammed 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, said in a statement read during the ceremony by Abdellah Boutadghart, a Moroccan diplomat.

Several hundred Moroccan Jews 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” of heritage preservation efforts, according to Carol Castiel of the Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project.

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

Situated in the heart of the Cape Verde’s largest cemetery, the Jewish burial plot is set apart by a low-hanging chain that encircles its ten restored headstones, the oldest dating back to 1864. 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 supporters, 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.

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