My parents moved to the US from Israel a few years before they had me. However, while my mother was born in Israel, the rest of my family is from Morocco (including all my grandparents and my father, whose family didn’t leave Morocco until he was 5). My grandparents are all at least trilingual (Moroccan Arabic, French, and Hebrew). That’s why my skin in Olive colored and I don’t burn when exposed to sunlight.
In Israel, Sephardic jews (jew descended from Spanish jews expelled during the inquisition) like Moroccan jews make up a big chunk of the population, but here in the US we make up a minority of a minority. When people in the US try to imagine the “stereotypical” somewhat secular American Jew they usually associate that image with a person whose family is very well off whose kids are somewhat spoiled, and whose grandparents were in the Holocaust or at least grew up in Brooklyn. This is not the story of most Sephardic jews.
When Sephardic Jews arrived in Israel en masse in the late 50s and early 60s they found that the established population of Ashkenazi (Eastern-European) jews did not take too kindly to their new neighbors and their new customs. For a long time, the new immigrants found life in Israel just a bit harder than their Eastern-European counterparts and racism against Sephardic jews is not uncommon.
All my life people assumed that I come from one of these stereotypical american jewish families because I’m Jewish (maybe some kind of Ashkenazi Jewish/White Privilege) rather than the truth which is that my parents didn’t go to college and my family is rather humble. My childhood was happy and my family has always supported me and my siblings and urged us to succed, but it was certainly never handed to us. My mother is a cook and my dad runs a bar (and I am immensely proud of how far they’ve come despite no traditional education). I’m the only one in my immediate family with a Ph.D. Though my grandpa likes to remind me that one of his brothers — or maybe it was a cousin? — who is a professor in Canada.
Anyway, people know very little about my culture. Instead of gefilte fish and kugel we eat couscous and marzipan. We sing different songs during the holidays and we have different traditions (we don’t have as many legume restrictions during Passover, for example so I always got to eat all the corn syrup my little heart desired as a kid during Passover while my Ashkenazi friends had to suffer with no candy bars!)
One of the absolute best thing about being Moroccan though, is the Mimouna.
The Mimouna (which has become a national holiday in Israel!) is the large party held at the end of Passover when we finally can eat lots and lots of leavened food. The original story is one of heartwarming unity when the non-Jewish (Muslim) neighbors would come at dusk on the last day of Passover with sweets and breads for their Jewish friends to enjoy. Sadly, that time of harmony is long gone, but we still have a big party and large feast after Passover.
The big draw of the Mimouna is the Mufleta. Mufleta is a very very simple flatbread made of water, flour, salt, and maybe a touch of yeast. You bake them in big stacks and they require a not so subtle amount of skill to layer them up. You then grab a layer of the flat bread, spread delicious honey and butter on it, roll it up like a cigar and indulge in carb-y bliss.
Beyond that the Mimouna is a festival of cookies. Special moroccan ones. Some are simple biscuits with anise and sesame, some are made with a special press from a meat grinder (you heard this correctly!) with sesame and coconut, tons of meringues, tons of marzipan/marzipan like treats, walnut cups, and spiced peanut cookies. It’s a marvelous time.
This year, Mimouna is on a Saturday so I’ve been GETTING READY. I’ve prepped almost all the cookies except the meringues. Some I’ve already baked, some are just frozen dough clumps in the fridge waiting for their little special tins to baked into just the right shape and sprinkled with just the right type of little round sprinkles.
In addition to all these cookies, I’ll be making my homemade hummus (from dried chickpeas which I then cook and peel individually and blend with extra tahini). Plus some matbucha which is a cooked “salad” (dip) of tomato and hot peppers. Plus some homemade labne (strained yogurt) drizzled with za’atar (a blend of sumac, thyme, and sesame). Maybe some Israeli salad to boot. Or some harissa (a spicy paste of hot peppers and spices like cumin and caraway) for the hummus if I get around to it.
I’ll even sneak some “Mizrahi” (think Israeli style country music but really middle eastern sounding) music onto our usual indie mix.
I’m getting my kaftan ready and I can’t wait to go into a sugar coma to celebrate my heritage. Go find a mimouna and pretend you’re one of us for one night, you won’t regret it!