On January 10, 1961, 44 Jews stood in the freezing night on El-Hociema beach in northern Morocco, waiting for a boat. They had traveled from Casablanca, taking with them only the barest essentials, as they had been instructed by the Mossad. As the boat approached, they could barely make out the word “Pisces” – changed to “Egoz”in Hebrew, on the boat’s renovated hull. After 12 undercover voyages bringing Jews to Israel via Gibraltar, the boat had undergone massive renovations to make it seaworthy. Still, there were doubts it was fit for the journey, but there were no other boats to be had and the need was great. Forty-four men, women and children boarded the boat, dreaming of seeing Israeli shores. Forty-four men, women and children drowned two hours later.

The danger of the trip to Israel was not lost on the passengers of the Egoz. Thousands of Moroccan Jews had been making the perilous journey even before the reestablishment of the Jewish state. Throughout the centuries of Diaspora the yearning to return to Israel had been a central part of the ethos of the Muslim world’s Jews. After Israel’s decisive victory in the War of Independence, the Arab world intensified the persecution of Jews by seizing lands and properties, boycotting Jewish businesses and banning them from leaving the country lest they return to Israel. This wave of persecution created over 850,000 Jewish refugees who then became citizens of the young Jewish state.

In Morocco, the story was a bit different.