In a time of division, Mimouna celebration unites

Guests dance during ShinDC’s Mimouna celebration at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. Photo by Samantha Cooper

As Moroccan Gnawa music, a style that mixes traditional Islamic and African rhythms, played, people danced and ate honeyed dates and Moroccan pancakes known as Msemmen.

It was Mimouna, a Moroccan Jewish holiday celebrating the end of Passover. And for 20-year-old Israeli Reut Elgrably, the Mimouna party Sunday at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, was close to the way they do it in Israel.

“In Israel, it’s a very big celebration,” she said.

Ken Notis and Judith Fogel of Alexandria were both familiar with Mimouna. Their daughter, Sarah Notis, is interested in non-Ashkenazi Jewish traditions.

“We’ve gotten a little taste of Sephardic Jewish life,” Fogel said, “We’re interested in the cuisine, the music and the culture. There’s just a whole rich culture.”

The celebration was arranged by Sephardic Heritage International DC and the Moroccan Embassy. In Morocco, Jewish and Muslim families celebrated the end of Passover together.

Similarly, the doors of the museum were open to anyone who wanted to celebrate. A group of friends who had come into the museum to look at the exhibits found themselves drawn to the music and food.

Andrew Wishon. 23, said, “It’s the first time I’ve ever done something like this. I really love the idea.”

His friend Ross Conroy said it reminded him of the street festivals he had been to in the past.

Brett Boren, 28, who lives in Washington, said that while he never celebrated Mimouna growing up as an Ashkenazi Jew, he recognizes its importance and feels it’s important to celebrate. He had grown up in Miami, where he had met Jews from all different backgrounds

“I think multiculturalism is what built the United States and it’s what builds strong nations everywhere,” he said.

A couple from Reston said they had come to explore the museum, but had spent the afternoon Googling terms like “Mimouna” and contacting their Jewish friends about Passover so that they could understand what was happening.

The celebration came the day after a shooting at Chabad of Poway near San Diego killed one worshiper and wounded three others. ShinDC founding director Franz Afraim Katzir said Mimouna is an antidote to hate and divisions.

“Differences and diversity often divide, but Mimouna presents a case where the differences strengthened the neighborhood instead of weakening it,” Katzir said. “It is a case where the differences bought people together instead of dividing them.”

“I was sitting there whispering to my husband about the tragedy that occurred yesterday,” Fogel said. “It did feel a little out of place to be dancing and singing after such a tragedy, but traditions have to endure.”

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