OpinionJewish & Israeli Holidays

Mimouna: A Moroccan farewell to social distancing

Mimouna is the post-Passover celebration when neighbors, family and friends stop by your house, kiss everyone on both cheeks and enjoy delicious sweets from a beautifully decorated table.

Israelis prepare moufletta for Mimouna, in Moshav Ahi'ezer, April 3, 2021. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Israelis prepare moufletta for Mimouna, in Moshav Ahi'ezer, April 3, 2021. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Rabbi Daniel Bouskila
Daniel Bouskila

“Mimouna via Zoom? You mean the seder, right? We’ve already discussed this.” 

“No rabbi, I mean Mimouna. Do you think it’s possible to do a Mimouna via Zoom?”

“No, that’s ridiculous, absolutely not. It goes against everything the Mimouna stands for. Impossible.”

Such was the conversation I had two years ago with one of my Moroccan rabbinic colleagues in Israel. It was April 2020, and the newly discovered COVID-19 virus was keeping all of us indoors and isolated from each other. New terms like “social distancing” quickly became part of our vocabulary, and communication via Zoom became our “new normal.”

Just a week before that conversation, that same rabbi had issued a Jewish legal ruling permitting the use of Zoom during the seder. There were many who followed the ruling and many who did not, but the seder was now behind us. Next on my mind was Mimouna, and I thought I would ask how he felt about it.

“As a Moroccan, you should know better!” he exclaimed. “I was able to find a halachic (legal) basis to permit Zoom this year during the pandemic, but there is no way I can ever advise anyone to have a Mimouna via Zoom. Forget about it, hopefully next year in person.”

The rabbi’s adverse reaction to a “Zoom Mimouna” is because Mimouna and social distancing are polar opposites.

But that was a long two years ago, and Mimouna is here again, this coming Saturday night, waiting for us to open our doors to our neighbors and friends. Mimouna is that magical open-door night invented by Moroccan Jews. Void of formal invitations, Mimouna is the post-Passover celebration when neighbors, family and friends stop by your house, kiss everyone on both cheeks, greet people with festive blessings of Tirbah U’Tissad (may you prosper and succeed), and enjoy delicious sweets from a beautifully decorated sweets table. No Zoom—real, live people, socially interacting with one another. 

Pfizer and Moderna took care of vaccinating us against the COVID-19 virus, and now Mimouna is here as our collective inoculation and booster against social distancing.

But didn’t the seder already take care of that? While many of us did sit together at the seder table this year, the tone and vibe of Mimouna is strikingly different.

The seder is an intense celebration of words and ideas, driven by a central book. Mimouna is a joyful celebration of emotions, driven by our hearts (and taste buds). The seder follows a strict order and a fixed set of rituals. Mimouna has no set order, and the only “rituals” are to socialize, bless one another, eat sweets and enjoy each other’s company.

But the biggest difference is the narrative that defines the evening. The seder tells a story about slavery, oppression and freedom, and reminds us that “in every generation there are those who seek to destroy us.” Mimouna offers a different narrative. It invites all Jews—Sephardi and Ashkenazi—to experience a less traumatized brand of Judaism, one of sunshine, warm desert climes, joie de vivre and cordial relations with our non-Jewish neighbors. 

Trauma and persecution are not guests at Mimouna. With the “bread of affliction” and “bitter herbs” behind us, we now set a colorful table adorned with a whole fish, a bowl of flour topped with gold coins, dairy products, honey, dates, dried fruits, fresh fruits, a beautiful array of marzipan sweets and pastries, mint tea, mahya (Moroccan arak) and moufletta—the thin, tortilla-style crepe fried in oil and served hot with butter, honey or jam.

The custom is to line the table with flowers and green leaves on a beautiful white tablecloth. These foods and decorations are symbols of fertility, prosperity, purity, abundance and sweetness, all reflections of the “Tirbah u’tissad” Mimouna greeting. Nothing negative tonight, all positive.

Rabbi Eliyahu Marciano is Israel’s leading expert on Mimouna. He has written three books on it, including “Mimouna: The Holiday of Reconciliation and Reunification.” 

“We had cordial relations with our Muslim neighbors in Morocco,” recalls Marciano. “At the conclusion of Passover, our Muslim neighbors would come to our Jewish homes with leaves of fresh Sheba vine and nana (mint), flour, milk, honey and sometimes fresh fish. They helped us launch Mimouna, would wish us a blessed and successful celebration, and then asked for one of us to bless them. Mimouna serves as a powerful reminder of that today for all Jews,” writes Marciano. 

I was not born in Morocco, but on Mimouna night in my French-speaking home in Los Angeles, our small apartment in West Hollywood may have well been in the Mellah (Jewish neighborhood) of Marrakesh. While we did not have Muslim neighbors who brought us all of the Mimouna essentials (my mother lovingly took care of all of that!), the hundreds of guests that flowed in and out of our small apartment that night were Jews of all backgrounds, together with Muslims, Armenians and Christians.

There were Holocaust survivors, friends from school and of course all of our neighbors in our building and on our block. It was, as Rabbi Marciano puts it, an evening of “reconciliation and reunification” that crossed religious and cultural boundaries and brought people together. Sweet foods, people dressed in ornate caftans, random musicians and lively dancing all fostered an uplifting atmosphere of unity. No United Nations summit has ever come close to bringing humanity together the way my parents did in our small apartment on the night of Mimouna.

It’s a custom my wife and I proudly continue today, year after year in our home (with the exception of that lonely 2020 Mimouna night). My wife Peni is Ashkenazi, but the night of Mimouna, she may as well be Moroccan, dressed in a beautiful caftan, setting a Mimouna table that matches that of my mother, making delicious moufleta and ululating better than most Moroccan women. More than me, it is Peni who has ensured that our children Shira and Ilan will carry the traditions of Mimouna into the future.  

That should tell everyone reading this article that you don’t have to be Moroccan (or even married to a Moroccan) to adopt this beautiful celebration in your home. Mimouna can easily become your holiday, and there is no better year to start than 2022, where Mimouna can help bring us out of social distancing.

Even if you don’t have all of the trimmings and ingredients ready this year, it doesn’t matter. Gather anything you can from the menu I listed above, decorate your tables, find some Mimouna mixes on Spotify, and invite your friends to celebrate a sweet evening together. It’s a beautiful way to end Passover on a high.

On Passover we opened our doors for Elijah the prophet, hoping he will announce the coming of the Messiah. Moroccan sages teach us that on Mimouna, we open our doors for everyone, still hoping the Messiah will come. Think about it: a table filled with sweets and a room full of people with smiles, laughter and love in their hearts. Can you think of any better way to greet the Messiah?

So here’s to a big goodbye to social distancing. Thanks for the Zoom memories, but please don’t come back. That’s Mimouna’s message to all of us this year.

Tirbah u’tissad.

Rabbi Daniel Bouskila is the director of the Sephardic Educational Center and the rabbi of the Westwood Village Synagogue. 

This article was first published by the Jewish Journal.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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