“I’m coming here from a very different culture,” Pe’er said. “I’m seeing different foods that I’m not used to eating, or different ways to read the Haggadah that I’m not used to.”
Learning about those differences are a good thing, he said. Jews, as a people spread around the world for thousands of years, have all kinds of ways of celebrating holidays and being Jewish.
In the spirit of that diversity, Pe’er is helping Jews here mark the end of Passover on April 23 with Mimouna, a traditional Moroccan-Jewish celebration that has become a national holiday in Israel.
“I have different traditions, let’s learn from each other,” he said.
The Twin Cities Mimouna event is 21+, and will be at the Gatherings at Station 10 at 9 p.m. Hosted by Young Adult Leadership Action Twin Cities (YALA) and Pe’er, and cosponsored by the Multiracial Jewish Association of Minnesota together with several area synagogues, party-goers will be able to learn belly-dancing, get henna tattoos, and dance to Israeli and Middle Eastern beats.
Mimouna’s origins aren’t clear, and the reason for the celebration comes down to any number of reasons. In some tellings, Mimouna is named after Maimon ben Yoseph, the father of the famous 12th century Sephardic rabbi and doctor RamBam (also known as Maimonides). The end of Passover marks the anniversary of Maimon’s birth…or perhaps his death.
In other versions, Mimouna is said to come from the Arabic word for luck. The name could also be connected to the Hebrew word “emunah,” which means belief.
For Pe’er, the celebration is centered on love of neighbors and coexistence — two ideas he said are lacking in Minnesota. In Pe’er’s experience, Israel is a more mixed and multi-cultural place than the Twin Cities, where he sees different ethnic, racial, and religious groups largely staying away from each other.
For Mimouna in Morocco, Muslims brought flour over to their Jewish neighbors when Passover ended at sundown. Jews would then quickly mix dough and pan fry a flatbread pastry called moufleta — Mimouna’s main dish, eaten with butter or honey — and spend the rest of the night throwing concerts and visiting different families.
“This is the most important value for me in this event: To be able to invite your non-Jewish friends, or people that are not from the same culture, invite them to your house and celebrate the different culture,” Pe’er said. “This is exactly what I’m trying to do here.”
Over the decades since Moroccan Jews fled antisemitism and immigrated to Israel, Mimouna has become a popular event in the Jewish State. Israelis visit different houses and parties, and Israeli politicians often make the rounds, too.
Pe’er is a Tunisian Jew, not Moroccan, but for the past six years he’s hosted Mimouna celebrations and prepared Moroccan pastries. “My door in my place used to be open for everyone that want to come over,” he said. Speakers have replaced traditional orchestras as loud music and dancing takes over the night.
Mimouna is the only day, other than Israeli Independence day, that the police allow loud music after 11 p.m., Pe’er said. “If someone need to wake up early this day after, he probably will not go to sleep,” he joked.
Bringing Mimouna overseas to Minnesota has not been as easy as Pe’er expected. He and Emma Dunn, the outgoing director of YALA Twin Cities, had to constantly explain the importance of the celebration to get support for this weekend’s event, he said.
“I thought it would be much easier, I would say a few things about Mimouna and people going to love that,” Pe’er said. “And I was really wrong, we fighting to make this event happen.
“It’s super sad, we’re in 2022…I’m telling Jewish people here and they don’t know about this event. But I’m glad that I’m doing this now that I’m here and I can do it.”
Even organizing food was a challenge. Pe’er couldn’t find any restaurants in the Twin Cities that make moufleta to serve the party in St. Paul, so he hired a chef who had never made the pastry before and told the chef how Israelis make it.
With any luck, though, Mimouna will become a regular event, and in future years it will be easier to organize, Pe’er said. Twin Cities Jews just need to get over the initial hurdle of unfamiliarity.
“I think people are going to love that, and for sure it will be very weird in the beginning, or strange, like ‘what is this,’” Pe’er said. “But I think this is the only way to see me as Israeli, see me as North African Jew, see Israel and what we celebrate in this meaningful day.”
For the Mimouna event, general Admission tickets are $22 before April 23; tickets will be available day-of and at the door for $25.