Prism council member Eva Heinstein talks about celebrating Mimouna as a child and in college.
By Eva Heinstein
Passover in my family was usually spent with Israeli friends, who like us, were far away from their extended families for the holiday. On the eighth night, we would all gather to celebrate Mimouna – each begrudging bite of maztah was paid off with a sweet mufletta crepe, and unfortunately, unseemly amounts of parental dancing. It was a festive event, with lots of lulululu, singing, drumming, good-luck blessings, and of course eating (to cement the Passover-tummy-tire). Jokes were exchanged in Moroccan Arabic – judging from the body language, I’d say they were rather off color. We didn’t understand a word, but sure got a kick out of watching our parents in stitches.
My freshman year at NYU was a hard transition – I was 3,000 miles away from my native Berkeley, CA and couldn’t fly home for every holiday celebration. Passover hit right up against midterms, so I chose to be responsible and tough it out in NYC. I mean, matzah is matzah – it’s no picnic on either coast. To my parent’s delight, I had become a regular at the Hillel House just a few blocks from my freshman dorm. I immediately gravitated toward Gesher, the Israel student group, made up of lots of other “children of” just like me. We cracked jokes about hilarious English slip-ups and the embarrassing social graces of our hot blooded Israeli parents. But in 2002, the middle of the second intifada, tension between Jewish and Muslim groups on campus was high. Guerrilla theater, protests, counter protests – the whole megillah. Many members of the respective groups began to grow tired of the yelling, lack of nuance, and tit-for-tat. A Middle East dialogue group was launched to try to quiet the noise, build personal connections, and foster mutual understanding. The dialogue sessions were also heated at times, but created a much needed safe space to talk about issues and events that weighed on us all. The next step was to actually do something together, and what could be better than celebrating Mimouna and our shared cultural heritage. Mimouna, a moment for Jewish and Muslim neighbors in Morocco to celebrate together and share good wishes for the spring harvest, exemplified the spirit of co-existence we were trying to foster at NYU.
The first Mimouna celebration at NYU took place at the Bronfman Center, with Arab Israeli musician Samir Shukri at the helm It brought together Jewish, (both Ashkenazi and Sephardic), Israeli, Muslim, and Arab students, as well as students from other communities for a great night of music, dancing and food. It was a formative experience in my life, one that showed me the power and urgent importance of cultural diplomacy.
It was a privilege to help bring a public Mimouna celebration to life in Boston last year. Prism and the American Islamic Congress created a joyful event that brought together hundreds of people from different religious and national backgrounds to celebrate the shared cultural heritage of Jews and Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa. And, wait ‘till you hear what’s in store this year. The main stage will pack a punch with four incredible ensembles: Amoud, Ilan Bar-Lavi Quintet, Atlas Soul, and Club D’Elf. Party goers will get to take a journey with the musicians and storytellers from the Spirit of Sefarad; hear words spun by the fierce and eloquent spoken word artist Vanessa Hidary, and laugh-out-loud with sassy comedian Tissa Hami. As if that wasn’t enough action for one night, there will be a shuk with imported goods from Morocco, a henna artist, an interactive art exhibit, food, drink, and more. This event is compelling on so many levels – it exposes young adults to contemporary Jewish and Middle Eastern culture, it is an open space for members of different faith and cultural communities to come together, and on top of everything, it’s a fun night out. I’ll be there with my party fez on and I hope you will too!