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Morocco honors a native sonUCLA anthropologist Aomar Boum. (Photo: Joel Mason-Gaines/ USHMM.)

Morocco honors a native son

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UCLA International Institute, January 10, 2024 — Sociocultural anthropologist and historian  Aomar Boum, Maurice Amado Professor of Sephardic Studies at UCLA, was named a resident member of the Academy of the Kingdom of Morocco in late November 2023. The induction ceremony in Rabat was presided over by Crown Prince Moulay El Hassan.

The academy was created by King Hassan II in 1977 and is dedicated to developing and promoting intellectual thought and scientific research on the humanities, social sciences, culture and the arts in Morocco.

Boum is now the academy’s youngest resident member. It’s current member roster of 93 — primarily academic scholars, writers and intellectuals — fall into three categories: resident members (i.e., Moroccans) and honorary and associate members of other nationalities.

“As an oasis-raised son of parents who never had the opportunity to attend school, I am deeply honored to be nominated as a member of the Academy of the Kingdom of Morocco. This nomination opens new doors for me to give back through projects creating international linkages between Morocco and other nations, with a particular focus on strengthening ties across Africa,” said Boum.

A native of rural southeastern Morocco, Boum is the author or co-author of six books and a well-respected scholar of Moroccan Jewish culture and history. He is beloved as a colleague and professor at UCLA, where his research and teaching stress empathy and tolerance.

“The Center for Near Eastern Studies congratulates Professor Boum on this prestigious honor,” said CNES Director Ali Behdad. “Aomar’s scholarly work has greatly contributed to restoring the shared lived history of Jews, Muslims and other minorities in Morocco, and in the Middle East and North Africa as a whole. And his humanity and open-heartedness are a model for us all.”

In 2021, Boum helped launch the Moroccan Jewish Studies program of the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, where he is co-director. The translation into Arabic of English-language works on Moroccan Jewish history and culture is a major component of the program. In 2023, he co-led through UCLA NELC and in partnership with UCLA-CNES with Brahim EL Guabli from Williams College, a new initiative to relaunch Amazigh Studies at UCLA.

The UCLA professor’s most recent publication, “Undesirables: A Holocaust Journey to North Africa” (Stanford, 2023), was illustrated by Algerian cartoonist Nadjib Berber. The graphic novel makes the Holocaust tangible to young Muslims of North Africa by situating it in their own history. The book tells the story of a Jewish journalist from Berlin who flees to North Africa and ends up incarcerated in a Vichy camp. (Read an interview with Boum about the book.)

This past June, “Undesirables” won the Independent Publisher Book Awards gold medal in the graphic novel/drawn work category for 2023. The book has already been translated into French and Arabic, and published in Morocco by La Croisée des Chemins in Fall 2023.