The North African Jewish festival of Mimouna (pronounced Meemuna), a 24-hour food-centered traditional celebration of Muslim-Jewish trust, will be celebrated in Israel on April 8 this year.
For many centuries Moroccan Jewish homes were purged of leavened bread during the week of Passover. At the end of Passover, Jews could eat bread and pastry, but they had no flour at all in their homes to bake with until their Muslim neighbors came by to return the flour that the Jews had entrusted to them.
Usually, this was the same flour that Jews had given to their Muslim neighbors a day prior to the start of Passover, so Jews could rid their homes of leavened flour prior to the week-long celebration of Passover. When, after the end of Passover, Arabs came to Jewish homes to return the flour, they were always invited to stay for a few hours and enjoy the soon-to-be baked goodies.
Thus, Jewish homes were filled with Muslim neighbors and friends exchanging traditional Arabic blessings of success (some say the name Mimouna derives from an Arabic word for "good luck") while awaiting the laden trays of delicious Mimouna baked goods. The celebration often was repeated the next day with more pastry and joy.
The name Mimouna comes from a word that sounds similar to Mimouna (Amina in Arabic, Ahmina in Turkish, Ehmunah in Hebrew). All three of these words mean faith or trust.
Jews trusted their Muslim neighbors to guard the flour faithfully from becoming impure, and their Muslim neighbors always did so. Mimouna is thus a celebration of Jewish-Muslim trust, fellowship, and good neighborliness.
In Israel today Mimouna has grown into a major celebration in Jerusalem's Sacher Park that today draws over 100,000 people and usually includes the president and prime minister of Israel in the celebration.
According to Elisheva Chetrit, a historian of Moroccan Jewry at Jerusalem's Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, in Morocco, the yearly celebration began with the eating of nuts, dates, and dried fruit, as Muslims do when breaking the daily fast during Ramadan.
The blessings of Mimouna also reflect the blessing of Prophet Abraham's two sons, Prophets Ishmael and Issac, and the three religions attached to them.
In honor of Mimouna and the coming of Ramadan, I offer this narration that was transmitted orally in both Arabic and Hebrew throughout many centuries and finally written down in several versions in the mid 19th century:
Two brothers who had inherited land from their father divided the land in half so each one could farm his own section. One brother's land was mostly on a hillside; the other brother's land was mostly in a valley on the other side of the hill.
Over time, the older brother married and had four children, while the younger brother was still not married. One year there was very little rain, and the crop was very meager. This was at the beginning of a long-term drought that would turn the whole valley into an arid, treeless desert where grain did not grow and all the springs dried up.
The younger brother lay awake one night praying and thought. "My brother has a wife and four children to feed, and I have no children. He needs more grain than I do, especially now when the grain is scarce."
So that night, the younger brother went to his silo, gathered a large bundle of wheat, and climbed the hill that separated the two farms and over to his brother's farm. He left his wheat in his brother's silo and returned home.
Earlier that very same night, the older brother was also lying awake praying for rain when he thought. "In my old age, my wife and I will have our grown children to take care of us, as well as grandchildren to enjoy, while my brother will probably have no children. He should at least sell more grain from the fields now so that he can provide for himself in his old age."
So that night, the older brother also gathered a large bundle of wheat, climbed the hill, left it in his brother's silo, and returned home. The next morning, the younger brother was surprised to see the amount of grain in his barn seemed unchanged. "I must not have taken as much wheat as I thought," he said. "Tonight I'll be sure to take more."
That same morning, the older brother standing in his barn was thinking the same thoughts. After night fell, each brother gathered a greater amount of wheat from his barn and, in the dark, secretly delivered it to his brother's barn. The next morning, the brothers were again puzzled and perplexed. "How can I be mistaken?" each one thought. "There's the same amount of grain here as there was before. This is impossible! Tonight I'll make no mistake - I'll take two large sacks."
The third night, more determined than ever, each brother gathered two large sacks of wheat from his barn, loaded them onto a cart, and slowly pulled the cart through the fields toward his brother's barn.
Near the top of the hill, with only a little light from a new moon, each brother noticed a figure in the distance. When the two brothers recognized the form of the other brother and the load he was pulling, they both realized what had happened.
Without a word, they dropped the ropes of their carts, ran to each other, and embraced.
Christians and Jews believe the hill is Jerusalem. Muslims believe the valley is Makkah.
I believe they are both right and God willing. Someday everyone may see both cities and their sanctuaries as a pair of lungs; that is central to humanity's spiritual inspiration by, and connection to, the One God of Prophets Abraham, Ishmael, and Isaac.
Only God can make a geographical place into a holy space. Thus God's prophets later knew that brotherly love and concern for each other had made this space into two holy places, as a pair of spiritual lungs for two holy sanctuaries on which the descendants of these two brothers will each build and rebuild a holy House for this world's spiritual revival.
As the Qur'an states: "'Believers, be steadfast in the cause of God and bear witness with justice. Do not let your enmity for others turn you away from justice. Deal justly; that is nearer to being God-fearing." (5:8)
When all those, both near and far, who revere their house as a standard for the world, and share it in love with everyone else who reveres it, then God will help them do, as Abraham requested: "Make this a land of Peace and provide its people with the produce of the land." (Qur'an 2:126).
May the inspiration of this ancient tale, transmitted orally for so many centuries in both Arabic and Hebrew, help Christians, Jews and Muslims overcome the many hate filled actions occurring in today's world. As the Qur'an states: Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend…" (41:34)
May the one pair of lungs provide the spiritual energy all humans need to live according to God's peace:" Say: The Holy Spirit has brought the Revelation from your Lord in Truth, to strengthen those who believe, and as guidance and glad tidings to Muslims." (Qur'an 16:102) and as the Hebrew Prophet Joel (2:28-9) states: in Messianic times the Holy Spirit will be poured out upon all the People of Israel; and according to a statement in the seventh century rabbinic Midrash Tanna debe Eliyahu, (Friedman edition): the Holy Spirit will be poured out equally upon Jews and non-Jews, men and women, freemen and slaves.
Then all the spiritual children of Prophet Abraham will learn to live in Holiness, Peace, and Prosperity. And as Prophet Isaiah predicted (19:23-25) "On that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. On that day, Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance."
Rabbi Maller's website is www.rabbimaller.com Rabbi Maller's book 'Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: One Rabbi's Reflections on the Profound Connectedness between Islam and Judaism' (31 articles by Rabbi Maller first published by Islamic web sites) is for sale ($15) on Amazon.