NY: JEW-MUSLIM DIALOGUE DEEPER THAN IT SEEMS
Once every year, we Jews gather around the seder table to recount the Passover story, but one narrative has not found its way into the Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewry) canon.
This past Tuesday, the eighth and final day of Passover, the Middle East Dialogue Group celebrated a festival with some 70 people interested in exploring the long-overlooked Moroccan Jewish Mimouna tradition.
According to Yigal Bin-Nun's April 7 article "Lady Luck" (from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz), the word "Mimouna" expresses its theological origins. It is normally depicted as a holiday of faith because of its similarity to the Hebrew word "emuna," or faith. It is linked to revolutionary rabbi and physician Maimonides because the celebration falls on his father Rabbi Maimon's birthday. It continues the Passover themes of slavery and redemption in the Hebrews' frightful Exodus from Egypt to the land of Canaan.
Before most of Morocco's Jews immigrated to Israel, France or North America, Mimouna typified a time of coexistence between Jews and Muslims. During the week of Passover, "chamatz" (leavened bread) is forbidden for Jews, so they tended to give all bread products to the Muslims, who, at the end of the week, reciprocated the gesture with a feast. Jews and Muslims filled the streets mingling with one another. They sang, they danced, and of course, they ate. Yet, when I studied abroad in Morocco this past semester, I found this glorious tradition and its message in hard times.
Before the creation of the state of Israel and the ensuing complications of identity, "Jews celebrated this holiday with their Arab neighbors because they were Arab," said Shir Harel, MEDG vice president.