Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting

by High Atlas Foundation
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Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting

Based on the teachings of all Abrahamic religions, humans are entrusted with the safeguarding of mother nature’s multiple components. Trees, in particular, are treated with reverence and are viewed as a sacred element in many cultures. Beside their ecological functions, they provide people with spiritual, symbolic, cultural, religious, and aesthetic benefits. In Islam, for instance, there are over 50 plant species mentioned in the Holy Qu’ran and Sunnah. From an Islamic perspective, planting a tree is considered an act of continuous charity. The Bible abounds with references to trees more than to any other living creatures, except humans. Similarly, trees occupy a special place in Jewish thought that an entire day called Tu BiShvat–the new year of trees–is dedicated to raising ecological awareness through tree planting.

Overall, all faiths have attributed great importance to tree planting. Building on these teachings and with the aim to emphasize the mutual relationship between humans and nature, the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) set aside the third Monday of January to celebrate its annual tree planting day. This year, the celebration coincides with two other special occasions: King day and Tu BiShvat. There couldn’t have been a better day to bring together individuals from different religious backgrounds to engage with local communities through tree planting. It is a day to be reminded of the moral imperative of environmental stewardship. In this respect, HAF staff members mobilized throughout the country to engage in this day of service and planted a wide variety of tree saplings in school yards, religious sites, cultural centers, cooperatives, and universities.

The tree planting event in Tangier kicked off at the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies (TALIM) where we were kindly welcomed by its Resident Director, Rasamimanana, and Associate Director, Bouziane. Dawson, Deputy Director of Dar America, also joined the event. The legation is considered the only US national Historic Landmark located in a foreign country. Though symbolic, planting a tree in a historic mansion that attests to two hundred years of friendship between the Kingdom of Morocco and the United States of America was truly monumental. In addition, we chose to plant a pomegranate tree, which is a symbol of fertility and longevity in many cultures in the hope that this tree will grow just as this cultural and educational center continues to thrive.

Later, we headed to our next planting site at the Résidence Laredo-Sabbah-Benchimol, the Jewish Hospice in Tangier. The nursing home, which is managed by Mrs. Emergui, provides care for five elderly members of the dwindling Jewish community in Tangier. Upon our arrival, Mrs. Azagury, who is in charge of the preservation of the Moroccan Jewish heritage in Tangier, received us warmly and guided us through the building. As we approached the garden, a beautiful green mosque minaret stood pleasantly in the background of this care home. The sight of it gave us great pleasure as this was a true embodiment of Morocco’s long lasting history of interreligious coexistence. 

With the help of Si Hmad, the hospice’s gardener, and Amaroch, a former USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer, several types of trees including carob, olive, almond and pomegranate were planted at the hospice’s garden. Mrs. Sonia inaugurated the tree planting event with a recitation of Berakhah (Jewish blessing) before placing an almond sapling in the ground. Other members of the Moroccan Jewish community also took part in planting the trees. Afterwards, we made our way toward the hospice’s main building that comprises a living room, residential rooms, a kosher kitchen, and a dining room. After having greeted the residents, we walked into the dining room where a bounty of fresh and dried fruits graced the Tu BiShvat dinner table. According to Mrs. Rica, it is customary to serve different types of seasonal fruits on this special occasion.

The significance of planting trees at such historical sites is immense with people of different faiths gathering to plant saplings and grow together as a community. As the trees take root, they will thrive to become a beacon of harmony and bear witness to such moments of unity and selflessness. Convinced that it is only through capturing such momentous stories that future generations will get to hark back to these memories and be inspired to walk down the same path as their ancestors, the USAID Dakira Program is heavily committed to documenting and archiving Morocco’s multiethnic and interreligious heritage.

This article was completed with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the High Atlas Foundation is solely responsible for its content, which does not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the Government of the United States.

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On Wednesday, December 22, 2021, the embassies of the United States and Israel in Morocco celebrated the first anniversary of the renewal of diplomatic ties between Morocco and Israel. The celebration was attended by several high-level profiles, including ambassadors, diplomats, religious leaders, and representatives of the political and cultural sectors.

The Kingdom resumed official relations with the state of Israel in December last year, two decades after the suspension of ties between the two countries following the second Palestinian Intifada. The Morocco-U.S.-Israel joint trilateral agreement is a historic moment that will allow for over one million Jewish Israelis of Moroccan origins to reconnect with their roots and visit the land where their ancestors have lived in harmony. But with the long-standing ties that have existed between the Kingdom and the state of Israel, the rapprochement highlights the country’s commitment to reviving and preserving its Jewish heritage, thereby contributing to lasting peace and interreligious coexistence in the region.

REMA Field Coordinators Soukaina and Amal and deputy chief of party, Fathi, attended the celebration of the first anniversary of the resumption of Israel-Morocco relations. This special event was an opportunity to promote peace, coexistence, and interfaith as it was highlighted in the speeches given by the foreign ministers of the three nations during a previous video conference. This celebration was a manifestation of unity and togetherness. Invitees from different nationalities, speaking different languages and following distinct religions, were all gathered in this ceremony to celebrate their variability.

As a pioneer of sustainability, amity, and concord, we were honored to represent the High Atlas Foundation and the USAID Religious and Ethnic Minority Activity (REMA) at such an event and continue to contribute toward the shared goals of raising awareness about multiculturalism, preserving the ancient Moroccan heritage, and reviving the values of coexistence and open mindedness.

It's time to preserve and share the memories and symbiosis that characterized the life of Moroccan people, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and this is going to be possible only by multiplying our efforts to implement more cultural activities and events.

This article was completed with the support of the USAID, and the High Atlas Foundation is solely responsible for its content, which does not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the Government of the United States.

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On Tuesday, December 7, my two fellow Austrian volunteers and I had the opportunity to join Dr. Ben-Meir for the last class he taught for the University of Virginia at the Jewish cemetery in the Mellah of Marrakech. Now, what is a Mellah?  In Marrakech, the Mellah is the very old part of the Medina in Marrakech’s center and used to be the Jewish quarter. The Jewish cemetery holds the name Miâara, after the street name of the cemetery’s entrance. The Hebrew name of this cemetery is Beit Mo’ed LeKol Chai or . It was founded in the 15th century, even though it is believed that Jewish people have been buried in this area since as early as the 12th century.

During the visit, I came across quite a few small, white gravestones. Later, I learned that these were children’s graves of the thousands of children that had died during the typhoid fever epidemic. Further into the graveyard, blue tombs caught my eye. These colorful tombs are dedicated to the kohanim, also called Jewish priests. Another interesting fact that I learned was the fact that the Miâara Cemetery is the largest of its kind in Morocco. As the largest Jewish cemetery in a country of very rich Jewish history, it is a very popular attraction, especially for Jewish Moroccans - most of whom now reside in the state of Israel.

I enjoy visiting such cemeteries, even though, like so many of us, I link these visits with a grieving, melancholic and heavy-hearted feeling. During this last COVID-ridden year, I have lost a handful of family members and nowadays I try to overcome these sorrowful emotions that come up during cemetery visits of mine and remind myself that all of them are in a better, happier place now. Considering the past so many Jewish people have had to overcome, I think the cemetery we visited is a very positive, peaceful, and precious piece of land. Not only that, a Jewish cemetery can stay without any vandalism for all its centuries, in a nation that does not consider itself Jewish. But also, looking back at the peace talks between Morocco and Israel in late 2020, it all seems like it is headed towards a very beautiful future. Before exiting the cemetery, Dr. Ben-Meir reminded us three that traditionally, one washes one's hands before leaving a Jewish cemetery. For me, this feels like a wonderful anecdote to tradition and the past.

Ultimately, after taking in the special energy of this historic and cultural cemetery, Dr. Ben-Meir led us to the Synagogue of the Mellah quarter. This is not only a synagogue but also a museum of the Jewish past in Morocco. Slat al-Azama synagogue is built in a Moroccan style with an open atrium and the walls are covered in beautiful mosaic-style tiles. The visit to this Jewish holy place right after the cemetery was a very exciting and special experience for me.

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Although the intersection between human rights and development is clear, the two are often approached separately and have therefore evolved into two separate categories. It can be easy to focus on their distinctions and differences from one another rather than seeing the way that they actually mutually boost and aid each other. This article is going to look at the challenges that are faced when trying to converge human rights and development efforts as well as how these two categories can and should aid each other in providing and improving safe and sanitized water around the world.

The Journal of Human Rights Practice published an article on the challenges and opportunities that arise when trying to converge human rights and development efforts. In this article, it says, “Human rights could be integrated more systemically into development policy and practice, for three reasons. (1) They are intrinsically valuable in aiming to protect human dignity and maybe (negatively) affected by development so that development policy should identify ways to at a minimum meet the ‘do no harm’ threshold. (2) They are also instrumentally useful to enhance development processes, address certain types of social risk, ensure accountability, and ultimately secure more equitable and sustainable development outcomes. (3) As a matter of public international law, human rights treaty obligations legally bind States' parties, and under custom bind all states other than persistent objectors: as such, they should be respected in all contexts, including development.”

Here, the explicit ways in which human rights and development can advance forwards and aid each other is listed. However, more often than not, the two are not explicitly incorporated, but rather implicitly incorporated— meaning, when human rights policies are written, the development aspect is often left excluded (and vice versa) and for the organization or nation to incorporate if they wish to do so. The Journal of Human Rights Practice argues that this should not be the case and that both human rights and development have the same underlying goals that should be explicitly stated and used to boost the legitimacy of the policy.

For example, the concept of equality lies at the center of the international human rights framework and is written into many international treaties (such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women [CEDAW], the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities [CRPD], and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination [CERD]. Similarly, developmental policies often also incorporate equality principles, such as inclusion, cohesion, or empowerment. While this example of equality illustrates the compatibility of the two agendas, it highlights the lack of integration between the two sectors. A stronger convergence of human rights’ equality into development could strengthen development’s specificity and technical parameters, enrich the discourse, and improve development processes by securing greater participation.

The convergence of human rights and development efforts can aid the effort of providing safe and sanitized water to those all around the globe. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Water is a basic human right and is fundamental to human dignity… Today, three in ten of the world’s people have no access to safe drinking water.” Similarly, access to water is one of the main items of United Nations Millennium Development Goals (UN-MDGs) and is also one of the main precepts of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The question that lies ahead of us is as follows: if providing sanitized drinking water is one of the main goals of both of the largest human rights organizations in the world and one of the main goals in one of the largest development initiatives in the world, how might the two efforts be converged to aid and support one another? Just as in the example with equality previously discussed, converging efforts will allow human rights activists and development efforts to strengthen specificity and hone in on important tasks that must be completed in order to advance, enrich the discourse as combining efforts will bring in more resources and attention from both sides, and improve the development process as both sides have different skills, resources, perspectives, insights, and connections to offer. 

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The Akrich tree nursery, about half an hour outside of Marrakech, was the first among many nurseries that the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) brought into being. In 2012, HAF launched this project, calling it “House of Life,” a name based on the nursery’s location within a 700-year-old Jewish cemetery. The nursery’s creation denoted the special relationship between Jewish and Muslim communities in Akrich and represented both the historic and longstanding unity of the Jewish and Muslim Moroccans living together.

On October 2, 2021, HAF hosted a community event as its first activity in implementing the USAID Religious and Ethnic Minorities Activity (REMA). The event took place at the Akrich fruit tree nursery. Among the many attendees were various representatives, including U.S. Consul General Lawrence, the President of the Jewish Community in the Marrakech-Safi region, Jacky, and various members of Morocco’s Muslim and Jewish communities.

For me, it was fascinating to see the importance of this U.S. official’s visit. At first, it seemed that his attendance alone was what had attracted a dozen journalists taking pictures with their huge cameras. Right after his arrival and the official welcome by HAF President and REMA Chief of Party Ben-Meir, the first activity was to light candles in the tomb of revered Rabbi Raphael. It was a breathtaking sight to see this interfaith gesture, almost like lighting a beacon of multicultural respect. Watching various members of the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faiths each light candles in such a sacred Jewish site made me realize that the cameras were here for all of us, capturing the silent statement of unity we created just by coming together.

We next gathered in a community center on the nursery’s grounds where tea and a light meal had been prepared. Motivated by Dr. Ben-Meir, members of the various communities in attendance took the floor and shared brief histories of themselves and their relationship with Akrich. Community members of the region, first time visitors, members of Muslim, Jewish, Amazigh, and international communities alike shared their stories.

Although I have no background in the Arabic language, the sentiments and messages being shared exceeded the necessity of language. I could see inspiration and encouragement in people's eyes. The meaning of the day only continued to grow, as knit carpets made by the women of the nearby cooperative of Achbarou were gifted to some of the guests. These gifts did even more than convey a kind gesture: the women of Achbarou distributed their cooperative’s business cards to attendees in a testament of economic empowerment and independence.

The final activity of the day was planting a fig tree together in unity. Everyone gathered around a meter-and-a-half deep hole, and, starting with Mr. Randolph and Mr. Kadoch, various attendees shoveled a few layers of soil and fertilizer over the tree. Regarding the utilized land, which is adjacent to Jewish burial sites, the act of planting the tree once again was an interfaith symbol, which goes hand-in-hand with the sustainable human development that HAF is aiming to achieve.

As a HAF volunteer, I found this event personally moving, and it gave me a stronger sense of HAF’s real impact and how important the connection within various religious communities truly is. It was an absolutely new experience for me to be at an event with this much press and officiality, and I will probably remember this day for the rest of my life.

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Organization Information

High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @AtlasHigh
Project Leader:
Yossef Ben-Meir
President of the High Atlas Foundation
New York City and Marrakech, Morocco
$15,910 raised of $28,000 goal
306 donations
$12,090 to go
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