More than 120 community members ended Passover this year as the Moroccan Jews do — by attending a Mimouna celebration marking the official end of matza-eating and the return to hametz. The North African tradition is imbued with themes of good fortune, fertility, and prosperity.
The local event was held May 1 at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Florham Park campus in Madison. It was sponsored by the Global Connections department of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ as well as the campus Hillel, Pan African Culture Club, and Phi Sigma Sigma sorority. Seventy-two student volunteers helped run the afternoon’s activities.
Celebrants included federation leaders; about 50 students from FDU; students from other area schools, like Montclair and Kean universities; and some high school students who are connected through the federation’s shlihim, or Israeli emissaries.
Mimouna is the traditional Moroccan-Jewish celebration of friendship, brotherhood, and unity observed at the end of Passover, said Moran Shevach, who is serving for the year as a shliha working with area college students. She herself is of North African descent.
FDU students had staged small Mimouna feasts in the past, but, said Shevach, she wanted to expand it and open it up to the entire community. “In previous years they just did the food aspect of Mimouna,” she said, “but we wanted to add activities that the whole family could enjoy.”
Lively North African music played as attendees sampled sweet desserts and relaxed in a maha’al (a tent’s seating area). They decorated hamsas, made traditional garments with jewels and fabric paint, and applied intricate designs in henna on their hands.
Arielle Golod, a sophomore from Hightstown who is FDU Hillel president, worked closely with Shevach throughout the semester to plan the event. Her motivation to stage a Mimouna, she said, was that since most Jews in the area are Ashkenazi, it’s “something people don’t usually think of when they think of Passover,” and she wanted to share a “beautiful tradition of the Sephardi culture” with students and people from the wider community.
“The entire day was great,” said Golod, adding that it fit beautifully into her focus in promoting through Hillel knowledge of the diversity of the Jewish people and its varied cultures. Such education, she said, is aimed to the benefit of the Hillel members, particularly the many non-Jews among them. Those who attended the Mimouna, she said, were “really enthusiastic to learn about what was a mostly unfamiliar aspect of Jewish tradition.”
Hillel adviser Sarah B. Azavedo, who is also the director of campus life at FDU, was previously unaware of Mimouna and of the rich culture of the Jews of North Africa. “Understanding the history and tradition behind the celebration was fascinating,” she said, adding that she was particularly struck by the “sense of community the celebration builds,” particularly in its acceptance of “strangers visiting the homes of strangers.”
The highlight for many was the cooking station, where participants got elbow-deep in making mouflettas. The sweet crepe, a Mimouna delicacy, is eaten warm and typically spread with butter, honey, syrup, jam, nuts, or dried fruits.
Shevach said the event had “the right spirit” and was a “wonderful new experience” for all the guests. “Many of the Israelis who came told me that it felt like a true Mimouna celebration to them. That made me happy.”