Wat is Maimuna / Mimuna?
Mimouna: A Festive Moroccan Jewish Festival
Moroccan Jews across Israel are celebrating the Mimouna holiday today. There are different theories for the origins of the holiday. The different Moroccan communities have different customs regarding what to eat for this holiday.
Traditional Moroccan costumes for Mimouna
Today, Moroccan Jews across Israel are celebrating Mimouna, a festive holiday that marks the end of the Passover and the ability of Jews to once again eat Hametz (bread products) after not being able to do so for one week. It is a day full of joy, where people dress up in traditional costumes, Moroccan music is played, and every one enjoys beautiful displays of food. It is a celebration of the renewal of spring, fertility, freedom, community values, togetherness, friendship and hospitality.
There are different theories regarding the origin of the holiday. There are those who argue that the holiday honors Rabbi Maimon ben Yossef, the father of the Rambam. They believe that he was either born or died on this day. Maimon was an important figure in Moroccan Jewish life, having worked extensively on promoting Muslim-Jewish relations.
Others stress that Mimouna derives from the Hebrew word for “faith” and “belief,” a reflection in the idea that Mimouna celebrates trust in G-d. This theory suggests that the holiday signifies both the past redemption from the Egyptians and the future redemption in the messianic era. In the Talmud, it is written, “Just as they were redeemed in Nisan from Egypt, so too in Nisan they will be redeemed again.”
A display of Moroccan pastries for Mimouna
This is closely related to the crossing of the Red Sea, which took place on the seventh day of Passover, where the whole nation witnessed the wonders of G-d and celebrated receiving all of the wealth of the Egyptians that washed up ashore. Jewish scholars stress that on this day in the future, the Jewish people will once again witness G-d’s wonders when the messianic era dawns in.
Still others believe the holiday derives from the Arabic word for “wealth” and “good luck.” This theory argues that the holiday was adopted from local Moroccan customs to promote good luck immediately after Passover, because since the messiah has not come yet, Moroccan Jews hope to be lucky enough to have the messiah come next year. Moroccan Jews believe that during this night, the gates of heaven are opened up to every ones prayers. For this reason, it was customary to set up matches between young men and women on Mimouna evening.
Regardless of the origins for the holiday, Moroccan Jews celebrate this day by baking a variety of sweet things. It is the Moroccan pastry holiday, par excellence! Different Moroccan Jewish communities have different traditions for the holiday. Some Moroccan Jews make a sweet pancake called mufleta, which is served with honey, butter, and unique homemade jams, which Moroccan woman work to prepare throughout the year. These jams can include eggplants, tomatoes, and a variety of other fruits and vegetables.
Mufleta being prepared
Other Moroccan Jews have a tradition of making couscous mixed with either warm milk or yogurt. This dish is known as birkouksh. Still other Moroccan Jews make a special cream called jaban, which is made with almonds and eggs. Naturally, all Moroccan Jews, regardless where they are from within Morocco, make a variety of cookies. Some of the cookies look like various fruits, vegetables, and flowers, yet are sweet and eatable. Other cookies are made with chocolate, while still others are made with sesame, almonds, and a variety of other tasty things.
The day after Moroccan Jews eat all of these sweets, in Israel, a BBQ is usually held. At these BBQs, Moroccan Jews eat homemade pita breads, chicken kebabs, beef kebabs, steaks, and also a variety of other expensive meats. The Moroccan Jewish women also usually prepare a variety of salads, such as green cabbage salad, purple cabbage salad, egg salad, Israeli salad, avocado salad, preserved olives, etc. The BBQ usually lasts the entire day and includes all of the family, as well as friends. In Morocco itself, families would traditionally visit one another on this day, since it was often difficult for such visits to occur during Passover itself due to varying levels of kashrut observance.