Moroccan Passover tradition brings Jews, Muslims together

Apr. 7–Passover is getting a different kind of send-off this year — in Somerville, anyway. On Saturday, members of Boston’s Jewish community will join with local Muslims to revive Mimouna (pronounced mee-moon-ah), a centuries-old Moroccan tradition that celebrates the end of the spring holiday in the best possible way: with food, drink, entertainment and the true spirit of brotherhood.

The festival takes place at Arts at the Armory Saturday and includes performances by the eclectic band Club d’Elf and Israeli-Mexican guitarist Ilan Bar-Lavi, a photography exhibit and a fashion show.

In Morocco, Jews and their Muslim neighbors get together and feast on foods — bread, in particular — that Jews cannot eat during the eight days of Passover. They also share treats considered lucky in Arabic culture like mufleta, a crepelike dessert served with butter and honey.

If the idea of Jews and Muslims having a Passover party together seems unusual, it is. The tradition, which is celebrated by Sephardic Jews in parts of France, Canada, Israel (where it is a national holiday) as well as North Africa, typically doesn’t draw many observers because of long-standing political tensions.

“Every time there is a problem in the Middle East, tension rises here domestically and that’s a tragedy,” said Nasser Weddady, civil rights outreach director for the Boston branch of the American Islamic Congress, “because the Arab-Israeli conflict does not define us as Muslims. That’s not what we’re about. There’s been a lot of attempts to present the facade by which there is one Muslim voice that speaks for Muslims and that’s not true. The best way to tap and dispel that is instead of talking, show that diversity in action.”

The AIC is co-hosting Saturday’s event with the Boston-based New Center for Arts and Culture’s Prism network, which explores Jewish identity. Prism co-director Eva Heinstein says Mimouna has remained largely hidden within tight-knit Sephardic communities.

“In Israel it’s now very popular,” Heinstein said. “But the interfaith aspect is pretty absent from it. In the U.S. (Mimouna) hasn’t been in the public sphere so much. It’s an opportunity for people to come together in a communal setting and it’s also an opportunity to learn about cultural traditions and start conversations about Jewish identities.”

Weddady, a native of Mauritania, in West Africa, agreed.

“It’s basically a largely untapped resource that hasn’t been fully leveraged,” he said. “Mimouna was sort of an ‘a-ha moment’ because when you think about it, it’s an incredibly secular event. In many ways it’s avant-garde. It was a no-brainer for us — we got to do this.”

For the scheduled performers, participating in the event is also a no-brainer.

“The main thing that attracted us to it is within the group there’s a lot of different cultures and faiths represented,” said Club d’Elf’s leader, bassist Mike Rivard. “Mimouna is a great event that crosses cultures and brings people together in celebration combining music, food and good times. Who doesn’t like that?”

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