A Sweet Meeting on Mimouna Night
A Sweet Meeting on Mimouna Night
It is midnight after they get back to Miriam’s house. They share one last pancake.
“This reminds me of our Ramadan holiday,” Jasmine says. “We fast every day and have big meals at night. Maybe you will come to our Ramadan party?”
“Maybe I will.” Miriam turns to her mother. “Can we go to Jasmine’s Ramadan party sometime?”
“I am not sure.”
“We might not live in Morocco by then. We might be in Jerusalem.”
A Sweet Meeting on Mimouna Night captures the excitement children feel for holidays and traditions, their curiosity about different cultural practices and their nervousness about new friendships. American-turned-Israeli writer/translator Allison Ofanansky also captures a moment in time, one of the significant demographic shifts of the 20th century.
Mimouna is festive event celebrated wherever Sephardic Jews from Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and other North African countries are dispersed around the world. It has subsequently been incorporated into many European Ashkenazi Jewish communities in Israel, Europe, North America and Australia. Jews left North African countries after the founding of Israel in 1948. The political influences at the time, followed by the Suez Crisis in 1956 and the 1967 Sinai War, prompted a near-complete exodus of North African Jews to Israel and from there to other countries.
The origin of Mimouna is disputed, but it, nevertheless, marks the end of Passover, the time when flour and leavened baking can be reintroduced into the home after eight days of eating unleavened matzah.
In A Sweet Meeting on Mimouna Night, little Miriam’s world expands as she discovers other cultures and a new friend right in her neighbourhood. She is looking forward to eating moufleta, a thin pancake smeared with jam, honey or butter, traditionally eaten after sundown on the last day of Passover. For the first time, her mother takes her to visit a Muslim friend to get flour for the treat. The unfamiliar home and the woman’s different customs make Miriam shy, and she is even more nervous about making friends with Jasmine, the woman’s daughter. But the girls are the same age and bond when Miriam’s missteps prompt their interaction. As the night and the party progress, Miriam begins to understand that hospitality means opening your heart and house to everyone, that sharing brings joy and enrichment. Her world is bigger.
Miriam’s friendship with Jasmine is sealed, but Miriam is uncertain they can continue their relationship. Her family is set to leave Morocco covertly because of political tensions. About 250,000 Jews immigrated to Israel by 1967, bringing their holiday traditions with them. The final page shows Miriam’s family transformed - looking a little more Westernized on the ship passage to Israel. Today, one million Israelis can trace their roots to Morocco. After Russian Jews, Moroccan Jews form the second largest community in Israel.
The sweet illustrations by Israeli artist Rotem Teplow (The Eternal Soldier: The True Story of How a Dog Became a Civil War Hero, Two Bears: An Epic Journey of Hope) depict the beauty of the Moroccan neighbourhood and the magic of the night. The dark sky is a warm charcoal grey; the stars and the moon radiate swirls of white. The desert landscape and the cacti are shown in pastels, and soft green vines twist around iron arches. Miriam and Jasmine are slightly round, indicating their innocence. The interior of the houses are traditionally appointed in bright, but slightly muted colours. Teplow draws from different perspectives; the picture from above of both girls sleeping after a night of gorging themselves is endearing. She does a good job of showing the children’s transformation from shy and uncertain to happy and confident friends.
A Sweet Meeting on Mimouna Night will make a good gift for a child whose family has roots in North Africa and will make a good addition to a library collection where children can learn about other holidays and cultures. A recipe for moufleta is included at the end, something which both parents and teachers could use as teaching tools and as a reward for a story well-read or as a unit wrap up.
Harriet Zaidman is a children’s writer, a book reviewer and a freelancer living in Winnipeg, Manitoba.