The mint tea was flying from the bar. Crispy Moroccan doughnuts — sfenj — were being dipped in sugar. And in a corner of the room at the Porat Yosef Moroccan synagogue in Hendon stood an Arabic tent with cushions, lanterns and synthetic palms, set up by Harif, the Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa.
Sunday afternoon’s Chanucah party was a special occasion, given that it was organised jointly by the Moroccan consulate. Attendees included consul-general Rachid Agassim — accompanied by his 23-year-old daughter Meriem — and representatives from Moroccan banks and the tourism industry.
“The King of Morocco attaches great importance to the Moroccan diaspora, Jewish and Muslim,” Mr Agassim explained. “The Moroccan Jewish community all over the world has strong links with their country of origin. They come for pilgrimages or family visits.
“We want to share this celebration to show that we in Morocco have no problem with religion. First of all you are Moroccan, then what you want to be, Muslim or Jewish.” Among the guests was Souad Talsi, a Berber Muslim who founded Al-Hasaniya, the Moroccan Women’s Centre in London, 28 years ago. “I am delighted to meet the Moroccan Jewish community,” she said. “We share the same music, language, culture.”
Andalucian-flavoured music competed with the buzz of conversation as people tucked into delicacies such as bastilla, filo pastry with a sweet filling.
Mr Agassim said the consulate and other staff were on hand to answer practical questions.“For example, some people have been told that if you have an Israeli passport, you can’t go there. It’s wrong — you can go.”
Although some politicians back home had proposed a bill to criminalise contact with Israel, he was confident “it will not go through. It goes against the principles of tolerance and openness which Morocco is preaching and following.” The diplomat, who in his third year in London, also hopes to organise joint events for the expatriate Muslim and Jewish communities.