Rabbi Sandra Kviat – 5 April 2018
Last Friday we began Pesach (Passover) with all the usual rituals of dipping, sharing, tasting, telling, talking and singing. Whatever your family customs, it’s usually chaotic, loud, long and very memorable. And then we have a week of matzah crumbs everywhere, until we reach the end of Pesach, usually marked with a gluttony of pizza/beer/bagels – whatever chametz that takes your fancy.
We are good at beginnings, but we are less clear on the endings. Candles on Friday night is an easy way to mark that Shabbat has begun, but how do we end on Saturday night? For many of us shabbat peters out somewhere around Saturday midday/afternoon and yet havdalah, which ends Shabbat, is one of the most beautiful, short and poignant rituals that we most of us do not do. Oddly, for Pesach, there is not particular ritual to finish the festival, and ‘celebrate’ the reintroduction of chametz (leaven). All Jews, except for the Orthodox outside of Israel, will finish on Friday 6th April in the evening, as Shabbat comes in.
A Moroccan tradition called Mimouna has in recent years become especially popular in Israel. It celebrates the new wheat harvest and the coming of spring with a feast of chametzy dishes, usually washed down with sweet tea. It’s a community celebration, almost a bit like a chametz-crawl, where you visit friends and neighbours, and together mark the time of spring, of hope, and of moving from the dark months into the light.
Some of the many symbols of Mimouna are lettice with honey to symbolise a sweet new year, five gold coins in dough symbolising that wealth will grow, fish to remind us of abundance and the splitting of Reed Sea, flour – to return to eating chametz, five eggs and green beans are other symbols of spring and rebirth, and lots of milk and honey dishes. These symbols all center around bounty, fertility, luck, blessings, and joy.
And though the coming of spring, and of hoping for a sweet and fruitful year is important, especially after the snow this winter, it is the social aspect of this celebration that has really captured the imagination of many. In numerous places in Israel the holiday has been refocused to celebrate coexistence, to remind us of a time when it was more common for the Muslims of Morocco to visit their Jews neighbours at the end of Pesach with gifts of sweet treats, as a sign of harmony and goodwill.
Today Mimouna has become an opportunity to celebrate Moroccan culture. One year a promotional video was created with the tongue-in-cheek message to ‘adopt an Ashkenazi’ to celebrate with. Though the message of the video was meant as a joke, it nevertheless reminds us of the divisions in Israeli society today.
And it should remind us of the division in ours. For one interesting lesson we can take from Mimouna is the question of coexistence versus shared existence. We can coexist with others, live side by side, without ever really getting to know others. Shared existence means having even simple connections with people outside of your (Jewish/economic/social class) bubble, intertwining our lives with others with the result that you know someone personally. It is not about volunteering, but about sharing.
The celebration of Mimouna is an opportunity to ask ourselves about where we live a shared existence and where we coexist? How much of our lives are really in shared existence versus coexistence, in our neighbourhood, at work, in relation to schools, or even in our communities? Do you know of a place that promotes shared existence in your local area?Are there areas where you would like to move from coexistence into shared?
As we reach for the soft, sweet, fragrant challah let us remember that endings also mean new beginnings for us and for those who lives near/with us.
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