Mimouna is the traditional North African Jewish celebration of eating chametz to mark the end of Passover. Ophir Tal, Israeli Emissary on behalf of The UJA Federation to The 14th Street Y, and Professor Danielle Knafo, Ph.D. clinical psychologist, author, professor, and Vice President of MANY – the Moroccan Americans of New York, have a conversation regarding their experience with celebrating Mimouna in the past and how COVID-19 has impacted how we honor this tradition.
Growing up in Israel, I (Ophir) knew that Mimouna was the way Moroccan Jews celebrate the end of Passover. I knew that they ate delicious food and danced to enchanting music. But little did I know the true extent of the holiday and meaningful way it brought together community.
I (Danielle), on the other hand, grew up hearing stories of Mimouna from my mother. She excitedly described the festive annual celebrations of the Jews of Safi, a small town in Morocco where Jews and Muslims lived next to one another, that took place on the final eve of Passover. Mimouna marked the end of the holiday that celebrates the Jewish freedom from slavery, a new beginning, and a new season. Since Jews do not eat leavened products during the eight days of Passover, the Mimouna marks the transition to eating chametz (foods with leavening agents). Because this was a time the Jews opened their homes to their Muslim brothers and sisters to share in their lavish spread of sweets—in particular, moufleta, a crepe-like pastry smeared in butter and honey, candied orange slices, eggplant jam, and many other delicacies–it also marked the friendship, harmony, and co-existence between cultures.
The Jews of Morocco are known to have fared better than many of their counterparts from European countries, and even Jews who settled in other Arab lands. Mohammed V is revered by Moroccan Jews for refusing to hand over the Jews to Hitler during WWII, famously saying, “There are no Jews in Morocco; there are only Moroccans.” Consequently, Morocco has often been held as an example of peaceful cohabitation. Today, there is a group of young Muslims in Morocco who call themselves Mimouna and who are dedicated to keeping alive the traditions and memories of the Jewish population. In New York, there is a group of Moroccan Jews and Muslims (MANY or Moroccan Americans of NY) who meet monthly for social dinners. They have dined together to break the fast on Ramadan and they have dined together to celebrate the Mimouna.
In New York City, Jews and Muslims came together to embrace Mimouna last year at a joint event at The 14th Street Y and with the Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee. The sight was heartwarming. One hundred guests formed circles of conversations and danced to the melodies of Arabic and Hebrew tunes.
Since its debut, the Mimouna event turned out to be an overwhelming success. It was evident that it would be repeated in 2020, this time in collaboration with the American Sephardic Federation (ASF). Yet, as John Lennon famously said: “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans,” and COVID-19 happened to change our plans. However, our community does not give up so easily.
Given the interfaith nature of Mimouna that endorses social adaptations, formation of a common ground, and simple pleasures, we believe it is the perfect antidote for the social alienation many are experiencing due to social distancing and quarantine. While addressing the ultimate needs for health and safety, we nonetheless wish to address the primal need for community and belonging. Therefore, we are determined to observe the interfaith values of Mimouna this year in a manner that suits the times we live in.
The 14th Street Y will hold an online Mimouna event that will include a panel that will speak on the importance of cultural exchange and a performance by the Moroccan musician Jawad Boushina . We at the 14th Street Y are prepared to open our virtual doors and provide you with food for the soul.
We offer our Mimouna event as an antidote to our troubled times. Mimouna can save you from the monotonic rhythm of being alone, by allowing colorful melodies and diversity to enrich your inner world, and self-expression. We encourage you to visit the 14th Street Y Facebook page, and join us on Sunday, April 19 at 5:00 PM to take part in an immersive cross-cultural Mimouna experience, without leaving the comfort of your homes.