Emunah on Mimouna

5 April 2021
By: Talia Kaplan

Many of us eagerly anticipate the meal at the conclusion of Passover. Finally, we can eat pizza, cake, and all of the hametz-filled carbohydrates we’ve been missing. For North African Jews, this time takes on heightened meaning with the celebration of Mimouna, a joyous day-long celebration of the end of the prohibition against eating bread that includes eating traditional Mizrahi Jewish foods. Yet this special tradition has become intertwined with debates over the use and abuse of Mizrahi culture in Israel.

On Mimouna, which begins the evening that Passover ends, Jews often welcome non-Jewish neighbors of all faiths into their homes. These guests, traditionally from Muslim communities, would bring over the flour needed for special Mimouna sweets. This holiday is still seen today as a hallmark for Jewish-Muslim relations in parts of Europe and Canada, where large Moroccan Jewish communities reside. In Israel, some Ashkenazi Israeli Jews enjoy partaking in Mizrahi customs–including Mimouna–but have a harder time reckoning with the systemic inequality Mizrahi Jews face and the challenges of Israel’s relations with her non-Jewish neighbors.

Despite the rise in popularity of Mizrahi music and cultural influences in Israel, Mizrahi Jews continue to face systemic discrimination. In Israel, Mizrahi Jews, on average, make less money than Ashkenazi Jews by nearly one-third. They are less likely to pursue academic studies and are far less likely to own their homes, and instead rent or live in low-income housing. The disparities are vast. So, when some Ashkenazi Jews celebrate Mimouna without addressing this fraught reality or effectively engaging with non-Jewish Arab neighbors, the meaning of shared community that is so central to the tradition is often overshadowed by an unfortunate political reality. To affirm the teachings of Mimouna without overlooking the complexities of its observance today, we can turn for inspiration both to Jewish teachings on inclusion and to Israeli civil society organizations that lead the way on Mizrahi issues.

There are different traditions about the origins of Mimouna, but many make linguistic connections to the Arabic phrase for “protected by God,” ma’amoun, and the Hebrew testament of faith made famous by Maimonides, ani ma’amin (“I believe”). One of the central themes of Mimouna is the trait of emunah, roughly translated as “belief.” Since at the end of Passover, we have been redeemed from Egypt but the Messianic age has not yet come, Mimouna celebrates God’s previous deliverance and cultivates hope for future redemption. It is also a practice in sharing this hope and good fortune with all–loved ones, neighbors, and strangers.

With deep faith, hard work, and love, NIF grantees in Israel–including those working on issues related to the erasure of Mizrahi culture and intercommunal relations–bring us one step closer to the world we hope for during Passover and Mimouna. Organizations like Amram, which collects testimonies about the kidnapping of Yemenite children in Israel, and Libi Bamizrach (My Heart is in the East) – the Coalition for Equal Allocation of Cultural Resources in Israel bring Mizrahi culture and issues into the public spotlight and advocate for better representation. Achoti for Women in Israel strengthens the voices of women in marginalized communities, including Mizrahi and Palestinian women, and Sikkuy, an organization made up of Jewish and Arab Israelis, promotes the representation of Arab voices in the media, school curricula, and elsewhere.

These organizations help me believe in a more just future. They remind me that trusting in those different from us is a necessary spiritual practice. Mimouna is not just a celebration of the end of Passover but also a ritual model of a more joyful, communal way of living. Through our shared efforts to build a better world, may we, too, merit redemption.

photo of Talia Kaplan, 2020-2021 Froman Fellow

Talia Kaplan

Talia Kaplan is an organizer, educator, second-year rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and a 2020-2021 Froman Fellow. Passionate about building spiritually rooted communities capable of effecting social change, she has been involved in interfaith immigration advocacy, facilitated experiential education programming for the Religious Action Center, and worked on issues of mass incarceration and human trafficking with T’ruah and Juvenile Law Center. Talia has been published on Israel education and collective memory, gender in Jewish ritual, and the intersection of kashrut and interpersonal relationships.