As a first-generation Israeli of Moroccan descent, Oshrat Barel is bringing a personal touch to “Mimuna! Israeli-Moroccan Nights,” a traditional end-of-Passover celebration the Weintraub Israel Center and Temple Emanu-El will present on Tuesday, April 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the synagogue.
The evening will include live music, Moroccan sweets and children’s activities.
Barel, director of the Weintraub Israel Center, and Na’ama Cohen, the University of Arizona Hillel Israel Fellow, who is also of Moroccan descent, will prepare many of the traditional fancy pastries with the help of volunteers. “We both want to see this event as an authentic Mimuna,” says Barel.
Singer-songwriter Claude Afota, who was born in Beni Mellal, Morocco, and now lives in Los Angeles, will provide the entertainment. Raised in a musical family, at an early age Afota learned to play the violin and the oud, which is similar to a lute. He sings his own compositions and performs popular favorites in several languages, including French, Moroccan, Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish and English.
The holiday celebrates not only the return to eating chametz (leavened goods) but also the beginning of spring. “My savta, my grandmother,” says Barel, taught her the Talmudic saying “B’Nissan nigalu B’nai Yisrael, u’b’Nissan atidin l’higael,” which means that in the month of Nissan, the people of Israel were redeemed (from Egypt) and will be redeemed in the future. “So it’s a blessed month, and to be sure that the blessing of Nissan will stay at their houses,” she says, Moroccan families set a table with fish, flowers, and other symbols of prosperity, along with an array of sweets. The tradition is to visit as many houses as you can, leaving your own door open, “because you spread the blessing, and you take from each house the blessing of Nissan.”
Tucson’s Mimuna celebration is unique in the Southwest, says Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon of Temple Emanu-El. “If you’ve ever experienced it in Israel, you know that it’s just a fantastic celebration, extraordinarily different from all of the other ways that we celebrate the end of Pesach. It’s great to have someone of Moroccan descent like Oshrat to work with, who understands what a joy this can be for Jews of every age, from children to retirees. It’s just delightful.”
Tickets for Tucson’s Mimuna celebration are $10 for Temple Emanu-El and Tucson Jewish Community Center members (in advance), $12 for nonmembers and at the door, $5 for students, and free for children 12 and under. Tickets are available from Temple Emanu-El at 327-4501.