Breads for Counting Ahead
Mimouna Treats (Wikimedia Commons)
Wondering when matzah fatigue would set in this year, I think of the Jewish communities around the world that have special traditions for reintroducing chametz at the end of Passover.
Moroccan and Ethiopian Jews gather with neighbors and family to savor foods representing hope, sweetness, and blessings. Greek Jews bake up currant buns. While in-person gatherings may not be possible this year, a welcome return to chametz is.
Moroccan Jews end the Passover festival through flour and yeast at mimouna festivities.Tables are filled with symbolic foods for renewal and fertility including oil, eggs, and flour for the upcoming Shabbat’s challah. Gold or silver bracelets might be buried in yeast, based on the idea of gifting in the verse “of the first of your dough, you shall set apart a cake for a gift” (Numbers 15:20). In Morocco, Muslim neighbors brought gifts including platters piled with fruit, milk, butter, flour and most importantly, starter dough. Jews made puffy mufleta pancakes signifying hope for the rising status of Jews. Sometimes wine left over from the Seder or cups of olive oil were poured over the yeasty cakes.
Reports of Mimouna date back at least to the 1772 travel journal of the HIDA, Chaim Yosef David Azulai. The source of the name for the festivity seems unclear though it may be from the Hebrew word for faith (emunah) that the messiah would arrive; a commemoration for the yahrzeit of the famous scholar Maimonides (Maimon); or, from the Arabic custom related to the demoness, “Lady Luck,” who was said to be married to Mimoun.
Prior to World War II, interactions with gentiles also marked the end of Passover for Jews in the Greek region of Ioannina. When they left the synagogue after the final service of Passover, Muslim, Christian, Greek, Turkish, or Albanian women appeared at the door to sell them yeast. That was used to make a quick dough for small currant buns for the first chametz eaten that evening.
As we shift from spare matzah to rich mufleta, honeyed Ethiopian engotcha, or fresh currant buns, our gratitude counts, especially now. At a time when restrictions have become all too familiar, these breads beckon us to count ahead to the joys of Shavuot, to open our minds to Jewish learning, to extend our hands metaphorically to our neighbors, and to enjoy sweetness even now.
Alexandra Audrey Galef, “The Evolution of the Moroccan Judeo-Muslim Relationship and the Mimouna Festival”
Gil Marks, An Encyclopedia of Jewish Food
Nicholas Stavroulakis Cookbook of Jews of Greece
Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz lectures about chocolate and Judaism around the world based on her book, On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao (second edition, Turner Publishing). She co-curated the exhibit “Semi[te] Sweet: On Jews and Chocolate” for Temple Emanu-El’s Herbert and Eileen Bernard Museum, New York City, now available to travel to your community. Most recently she has launched the chocolatebabkaproject, an exploration of celebratory breads.