A Mother’s Intuition in 19th-Century Tetuan

In 1860, the Alliance Israélite Universelle, created by French Jews seeking to modernize and educate their less fortunate brethren, began to establish educational facilities for Jewish boys living in Oriental communities. Eventually the Parisian directorate decided that girls deserved an education as well, so in 1882 it opened a school in Tetuan, Morocco.

Not all the members of this community were immediately thrilled with this prospect, as the Alliance’s ulterior motive, as well as the school’s long-term repercussions, were unclear to them. Many parents were not willing to allow their daughters to be exposed to Western ideas and/or to be absent from the home for so many hours each day.

Frances Malino, a professor at Wellesley College who researches French Jewry in the modern period, discovered one unusual mother who encouraged her four daughters – Claire, Hassiba, Allégrina and Sol – to improve their lives and pursue higher education as well as careers. (See “Prophets in their own Land? Mothers and Daughters of the Alliance Israélite Universelle,” Nashim 3 (2000).) The eldest daughter was enrolled in the new Alliance school at the age of 12; her stellar performance inspired her teacher to recommend allowing Claire to transfer to Paris, where she could pursue her studies as a scholarship student. Although this meant that Madame Messody Benchimol would be parting from her daughter for four long years, this mother apparently had an understanding of the necessity for change and adaptation.

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