Numerous traditions have been practiced by Jewish communities and families in different parts of the world. The Ashkenazi custom of Schlissel Challah has become very widespread. The Mimouna, a North African celebration, is tradition which is gaining popularity outside of the North African communities. I was aware of the Mimouna, but the Schlissel Challah was new to me. It was featured in this week’s Jewish Food Society <email@example.com>, a nice periodic newsletter.
The Shlissel (key in Yiddish) challah is baked for the first Shabbat after Pesach. Many women shape the dough like a key, others place a key inside the dough. The loaf is sprinkled with sesame seeds to represent the manna on which the ancient Israelites subsisted while wondering in the desert. Some believe that the key represents the keys to the gates of the Promise Land that the ancient Israelites received during Passover. Thus special challah is supposed to bring a blessing for good fortune to the home.
A number of Hasidic rebbes have referred to the Schlissel Challah. Rabbi Pinchas Shapiro of Koritz (born 1726), a student of the Baal Shem Tov, wrote that the reason to bake this bread on the Shabbat following Pesach is that during Pesach, the gates to Heaven were opened and remain open until Pesach Sheni ( almost one month after the start of Pesach). The Apter Rebbe mentioned the custom and wrote that the gates to Heaven were opened to Jewish prayers the entire Pesach and we must be opened with the Mitzvah of Shabbat observance.
Mimouna is a joyous Moroccan post Pesach festival of springtime, friends, family, and good fortune. It’s celebrated with outdoor parties and picnics wherever Jews of Moroccan descent have settled. It was celebrated in Morocco by the entire neighborhood, Jews and Muslims alike. The Maimuna is seen as a way to reintroduce chametz, the leavened foods not eaten during Pesach.
The exact origins of the name and holiday are unknown — does it mark the anniversary of the death of Maimon ben Yosef, the father of Maimonides; does the name come from the Hebrew word “emunah” (faith); or is it derived from the Arabic word “ma’amoun” (wealth)? It could, like other spring festivities, just be the remains of an earlier pagan celebration. Regardless, Mimouna has become a widely celebrated and wildly popular event on the Jewish calendar in Israel and all over the world. Moroccan-Israelis see the holiday as an important symbol of their heritage.
During eve of the Mimouna, homes are opened. The tradition was to visit several houses, drink a cup of tea, taste the mufleta and move on to the next house. Mufleta, a thin pancake eaten with honey, nuts, and dried fruit, is the most common food during the Mimouna. Other sweet treats may include orange jam, eggplant jam, marzipan, meringues.
As with most other Jewish celebrations, the foods served for the Mimouna are rich with symbolism. Talismans of luck, fertility,and prosperity are also found on the table. These could be a live goldfish in a glass bowl, a sign of luck, or a green tree branch. Five is associated with the hamsa (the hand-shaped amulet also popular among Moroccan Muslims as the hand of Fatima) and the five books of Moses. Five appears in five gold coins in a bowl of flour and five fava beans arranged on a pastry. Seven, as in the days of creation, is another significant number. The numerical value of the Hebrew word for luck, gad, is seven, and the numerical value of mazel, another word for luck is 77.
The piyut (Jewish liturgical poem) “Atem Yotze’i Ma’arav” is a beautifully documented by Rabbi David Buzaglo, who describes the tangible feeling of human brotherhood on this special holiday:
It’s spring, we all want to be outside. Remember, take care, be safe, and remain of good health and good spirits!