Mimouna, the day after the week-long Passover festival, is traditionally celebrated by Jews of Moroccan origin, as well as those from other north African countries and even Turkey. Marking the sweet start of spring and the return to eating hametz, Mimouna is usually celebrated outdoors, often with picnics, barbecues and banquets in parks, beaches and the homes of prominent rabbis. Many people wear traditional Moroccan dress for the feast, which is accompanied by Moroccan music and dancing, as well as speeches by rabbis and public officials.
The highlight of the menu is the moufleta, a sweet round pancake prepared on the eve of the Mimouna.
While the celebration of Mimouna began centuries ago (it was first documented in the 18th century) in Morocco, where Jews have lived since Roman times, its origin remains uncertain. Some say it marked the date on which Maimon, the father of the Rambam, was born and died. Another theory claims it aimed to persuade a demon named Maimun to allow crops to grow. Still others believe Mimouna comes from the Arabic word for “good fortune” or the Hebrew word for faith, emuna, and that the holiday combines both the Jewish liberation from Egypt into the Promised Land and a future Messianic redemption.
Whatever the case, it was exported to Israel by an estimated quarter of a million Jews who fled Morocco between 1948 and 1967, and has been celebrated annually ever since the establishment of the state. Nowadays, Mimouna represents a hopeful holiday, rejoicing in the return to Zion, and praying for health, prosperity and fertility.
Communities congregate around religious leaders (in the past, most notably around the late Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef), and politicians of all stripes make a point of joining in a Mimouna celebration to win favor among the significant electorate represented by North African Jewry. Ironically, after Yosef’s death six months ago, Shas seems to be in danger of splitting.
Party chairman Arye Deri recently appointed Rabbi Shalom Cohen to succeed Yosef as spiritual leader, much to the chagrin of Deri’s rival in the party, Eli Yishai.
Although Shas is not in the coalition, everyone from the president and prime minister to the leader of the opposition will make the Mimouna rounds, making sure they get photographed with local rabbis and officials, and wishing everyone well on this happy day. And they will put aside any thoughts of a post-Passover diet to indulge in the sweet delicacies.
In Israel, the day after Passover is officially a work day, while in most countries abroad (except for north Africa) it is celebrated as the eighth day of the holiday. Yet hundreds of thousands of Moroccan and non-Moroccan Jewish Israelis, still in the holiday spirit, decide to take the day off for Mimouna.
It is true that Jews have an inordinate number of festivals and memorial days, the result of a long history of military victories and defeats, miracles and massacres, the horror of the Holocaust and the ultimate triumph of establishing a Jewish state in 1948. Most of these holidays are marked by all Jews. So why leave Mimouna as a marginalized holiday celebrated only by Moroccans? Is this not an opportunity for us all to embrace the rich Moroccan-Jewish heritage? Leaving it as a holiday for only North African Jews merely reinforces the stereotypical Sephardi-Ashkenazi divide and goes against the grain of turning Israel into a state for all its citizens.
Just as many Jews invite their Christian and Muslim friends to their Seder, so Moroccan Jews often invite their Ashkenazi and Arab friends to enjoy their moufletas.
It is, after all, a colorful, joyful holiday celebrated by Jews from an Arab country. Adding one more festival to the list of Jewish holidays will not harm anyone and can only contribute to bringing the wide range of communities in Israel closer together. Mimouna should become an official national holiday, open to everyone rather than to just one sector of society.
An estimated 2 million of a total 8 million Israelis began celebrating Mimouna last night. The Knesset should pass legislation to declare today a recognized day off, so that we may all taste the treats of Moroccan Jews together, as one people. Mimouna has, over the years, become nationalized anyway. Let’s make it legal.
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