"Jeune Israël": Multiple Modernities of Jewish Childhood and Youth in Morocco in the First Half of the Twentieth Century

David Guedj*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present essay offers a new perspective on childhood and youth in Morocco and western Algeria. Changes in the experience of youth which began to take shape in the last quarter of the nineteenth century have not been previously discussed. In my analysis of articles written by youth in Morocco and western Algeria and published in a newspaper that operated in Casablanca during the interwar period, I have sought to glimpse their thoughts and actions within the broader social and cultural context. These personal essays help us decode the social and cultural system in which they participated. My analysis suggests a model of multiple modernities in the childhood and youth of Jews in Morocco's westernized sector, which includes several cultural programs: the adoption of modern European ideals, educational values, and leisure culture in the form of nature outings, which had been uncommon in urban Morocco before the colonial period; and alongside the internalization of universal western values, a new national Jewish consciousness reflected in the new national Jewish bookshelf, the espousal of Hebrew as a modern language, the aspiration to immigrate to the fledgling Jewish state in Palestine; and finally, the cultural segregation of Jewish youth from the surrounding population. Despite the adoption of new European values, both universalistic and particularistic, teens and young adults maintained religious-traditional values at home and in community institutions. Although some failed to observe the commandments and religious customs, I found no evidence of resentment toward religion or the older generation. The cultural programs of modernity coexisted within the Jewish space, while interactions between westernized Jewish youth and the Muslim majority or the Christian minority were limited, at least according to the young writers' published accounts. The model of multiple modernities of Jewish childhood and youth can also be explored in other Muslim countries where locals interacted with European cultures beginning in the mid-nineteenth century. These interactions within a colonial (cultural and/or political) urban space, in the case of youth played out largely in European educational settings. This model does not apply, for example, to children and youth in communities in southern Morocco, southern Algeria, or southern Tunisia, which had hardly any exposure to European cultures whether in the city streets, at school, or at home. The compositions surveyed in this article were subject to editorial control and presumably did not cover all the issues which preoccupied Moroccan-Jewish youth. Indeed, some writers may have touched on these issues, only to be censored by the editor. For example, the writers never discuss adolescence, sexuality, or boy-girl and parent-child relationships. These issues were apparently inappropriate for L'Avenir illustré and were therefore left out of the present study. Further research will depend on the discovery of new sources, particularly personal letters and diaries, where intimate issues that have not undergone self-or adult censorship before becoming public may have been aired. Nevertheless, the portrait of childhood suggested by this paper is significant due to its reliance on texts written by young people themselves, not least because they reflect the hitherto unexamined experience of childhood and youth that played out in Morocco and western Algeria from the late nineteenth century.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)316-343
Number of pages28
JournalJewish Quarterly Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2022

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© 2022 Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies.


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