Moroccan Jews punctuate Passover with sweets and hopeful blessings
The day following Passover is celebrated as Mimouna, a recognition of friendly relations between Jews and Muslims that is recognized with a feast of sweets, nuts and fruits.
There’s joy at the end of Passover when Jews are finally able to eat chametz again. But to celebrate, Moroccan Jews do more than eat bread. They make jam-filled crepes, dress in traditional Arab garb and wish each other good luck at parties in their homes.
“Everyone that comes to your house is coming to wish you luck and a good year,” said Albert Amar, suburban Maryland resident who grew up in Morocco.
The day following Passover is celebrated by Moroccan Jews as Mimouna, named after the great Moroccan-born sage Maimonides, or Rambam. In Morocco, Mimouna was a recognition of friendly relations between Jews and Muslims. During the final days of Passover, Muslims give ingredients to Jews to make leavened foods once the holiday was over. Jews reciprocate by welcoming Muslims into their homes for Mimouna. Mimouna is on April 8.
Amar grew up in the capital, Rabat. He remembers long nights of celebrating at multiple Jewish homes in his neighborhood.
“From 9 p.m. to 3 in the morning, my family were going house to house, talking, eating, having drinks,” he said.
Since immigrating to the United States in 2002, Amar and his family continue to celebrate Mimouna. His wife, Doryss, makes seven sweet jams to stuff into mofletas, or sweet crepes native to Morocco. Jewish neighbors show up without an invitation needed.
Naomi Elimelech said she typically draws a sizable crowd of Jews to her house. Last year, she made more than 300 mofletas for the 100 people that came.
“You do not invite people to the Mimouna,” she said. “You leave the door open and friends and neighbors come. [And then] you at some point leave the house and go to others’ houses.”
Elimelech said that at her Mimouna celebrations, she puts gold coins on the table to represent wealth and a tray with a large raw fish that symbolizes fertility and success.
Fava beans are also common, she said, to mark the change in seasons.
“Fava beans for the Moroccans symbolize something fresh and green,” she said. “The entire celebration of Mimouna is to celebrate the end of the winter and the beginning of the spring.”
Elimelech said Moroccan Jews also wear multicolored Arabic robes — a kaftan for women and a jalabiya for men. And a designated person recites the blessing, “May you merit success.”
Jason Guberman, executive director of the American Sephardi Foundation in New York, said Mimouna has become so prominent in the Moroccan Jewish community that it has practically become a national holiday there and in Israel.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other politicians attend Mimouna celebrations, said Elimelech, who grew up there.
“In Israel, if you’re Ashkenazi, you usually call someone and try to get invited to a Mimouna celebration,” Elimelech said. “It’s the one place you want to be at if you want people to vote for you.” PJC
Dan Schere writes for the Washington Jewish Week, an affiliated publication of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.