The Mimouna Club in front of the Jewish Museum in Casablanca
To mark the end of the festival of Passover tonight, Moroccan Jews will celebrate the Mimouna. This unique symbol of Jewish-Arab connection, when Muslim neighbours brought pancakes and other leaven into Jewish homes, is now the name of a club started by Moroccan Muslim students. Of course, if Moroccans have anything to do with Jews and Israel, they run the risk of stigmatisation and ostracism, as Aomar Boum remarks in this Tablet article. See my comment below. (with thanks: Michelle)
The Club is called Mimouna, after the traditional Moroccan Jewish post-Passover celebration welcoming the return of leavened bread. For Moroccan Jews, Mimouna signifies the promise of redemption and the hopeful return of the messiah. Israel recognized it as a national holiday in 1966; the Mimouna Club contends that the observance deserves a place in Moroccan culture and society, as a celebration of ethnic diversity.
Today, it has foundation status and chapters in Fès, Rabat, Tetouan, and Marrakech.
In December, I met a few members of the foundation in Rabat, where they were preparing to launch a cultural caravan, a 300-mile traveling roadshow about Moroccan Judaism. I asked them why they care about a topic that could potentially bring them nothing but stigma and social rejection. Almost all of them highlighted how little Moroccan youth know about their history and how significant it is for their compatriots beyond the walls of university campuses to embrace Morocco’s cultural diversity.
For many Moroccans, particularly younger ones, the country’s Jewish story is part of the past and has no place in post-independence society. “How could we have a club about Moroccan Jews many of whom occupy Palestinian lands today?” one Mimouna critic in Casablanca whispered to me during a visit I made in 2010. It was an attitude I knew well from my anthropological and ethnographic research on Moroccan Jewish communities—but the social pressure on me as a professional ethnographer was minimal compared to the pressures the student members of Mimouna face.
A few acknowledged their frustration and anxiety about being ostracized just because of their interest in learning about Moroccan Judaism—really, about Moroccan history. Recently, the name of one of the Mimouna club members was listed in a public document published online by the Moroccan Observatory Against Normalization with Israel, alongside names such as André Azoulay, an adviser to King Mohammed VI; Driss El-Yazami the president of the National Human Rights Council; and Berber, or Amazigh, activists, some of whom have contact with Israeli institutions, citizens, and other public organizations.
But when I spoke to these students in the course of completing work for a book on the monarchy, Jews, and Holocaust politics in Morocco, I was surprised to find that their interest in the history of Jewish-Muslim relations emerged from their own lives. The majority of them were born and raised in Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech, and Fès and knew their hometowns had complex histories. Elmehdi Boudra, the co-founder of the club at Al-Akhawayn—who subsequently went on to earn a master’s degree in coexistence and conflict from Brandeis—talked to me about how he never knew, growing up in Casablanca, about the longstanding relations between Jews and Muslims in the old city.
Boudra was also inspired by one of the group’s early mentors, Simon Lévy, a renowned linguist of Judeo-Arabic and Judeo-Spanish, a political dissident, and former director of the Jewish Museum of Casablanca who also played major role in Moroccan politics since Independence as one of the leading figures of the Party of Progress and Socialism founded by Ali Ya’ta. Another student, Sami Gaidi, described how he went to school in Rabat with Moroccan Jews with whom he remained in touch; a third, Myriam Mallouk, talked about how she was hosted by a Moroccan Jewish family while studying law in France.
In 1998, in a famous Le Monde Diplomatique article titled “Israel-Palestine: A Third Way,” Edward Said responded to Arab critics after his call for seeking communication with Jewish partners in an article that he published for al-Hayat newspaper in June 1998. Said called on Arabs to engage Jews in a responsible conversation including understanding the Holocaust. “When I mentioned the Holocaust in an article I wrote last November, I received more stupid vilification than I ever thought possible; one famous intellectual even accused me of trying to gain a certificate of good behaviour from the Zionist lobby,” Said wrote. “Of course, I support Garaudy’s right to say what he pleases and I oppose the wretched loi Gayssot under which he was prosecuted and condemned. But I also think that what he says is trivial and irresponsible, and when we endorse it, it allies us necessarily with Le Pen and all the retrograde right-wing fascist elements in French society.”
Mimouna has taken the challenge to heart. In 2011, the club attracted international attention after its members organized a conference on the record of Morocco’s King Mohammed V during World War II, when he resisted orders from the Vichy government to deport Jews living inside the kingdom. For the students, the point of organizing a conference on the Holocaust was to educate their fellow Moroccans about a period when refugees from Europe—many, though not all, Jewish—found shelter in Morocco before the Allies landed at Safi and Casablanca in late 1942.
A year after the Holocaust conference, 16 members of the club took a trip to Israel, where they had a firsthand experience of daily encounters between Jews and Muslims—and the realities of the conflict in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Ramallah and other places. They were also able to meet different generations of Moroccan Jews in Israel and the West Bank.
The trip was organized in collaboration with Kivunim, a New York-based gap-year program created by Peter Geffen, the founder of the Heschel School on the Upper West Side. Geffen took the students to Jerusalem and Ramallah—and to Ashdod, where they visited a statue to Hassan II that stands in a city park. These young students reflected on the complexities of the conflict as their minds and emotions struggled to bridge the distance between Yad Vashem, Deir Yassin, the Haram al-Sharif, and the Western Wall.
Despite the anxieties of the experience, they cherished meeting in person Israelis and American Jews as well as Palestinian Arabs, Christians, and Muslims. When I asked a student if he regretted making the trip after it attracted public criticism, he replied with confidence. “No, I do not regret the trip,” he told me. “I developed a strong friendship with Israelis and Palestinians who work together as we speak now for a possible, just, and peaceful world. It is tough. But the fact of seeing Israeli women standing between an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian worker gives me hope.”
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My comment: The Mimouna club should be applauded for taking risks to build bridges between the two communities.They have been brave enough to arrange a trip to Israel; they have had to fend off accusations of normalisation with Israel. But I am uneasy about the kind of Israel they were taken to see. It is an Israel which confirms the Arab version of history - a version which sees Palestinians as victims. At the same time, it confirms the myth that Moroccans saved Jews during WW2. I bet that these young people were told nothing about Arab antisemitism.
I am further uneasy that Boum quotes, of all people, Edward Said. Arabs should acknowledge the Holocaust so as not to be bracketed with far right fascists, he said. A bizarre and disingenuous argument.
Pro-Jewish students suffered antisemitism
Holocaust conference has its dangers
Aomar Boum: A market without Jews is like bread without salt