Virtually Connected: Doing Research from Home (Part 1)

Updated: May 11, 2020

Coronavirus and virtual Moroccan Jewish-Muslim musical celebrations of the Mimouna

Vanessa Paloma Elbaz

The Mimouna is a Moroccan celebration on the night following the last day of Passover. It symbolizes the opening of one’s doors to all and everyone after a week of staying quasi-confined within one’s family home. The stringent dietary restrictions of Passover mean that many Jews in Morocco will not even drink a cup of coffee from a kitchen that is not kosher for Passover during that week. Traditionally this meant that Muslims and Jews would hardly see each other during the holiday, precluding any sort of social interactions that might lead to breaking the dietary restrictions.

One hour after the holiday is finished, as darkness arrives and three stars are visible in the sky, the doors to Jewish homes throughout Morocco would open up and Muslim and Jewish friends, family and neighbors are expected to arrive. There is a bowl of flour on the table, with five eggs (against the evil eye), five fava stalks (for fertility) and a cup of oil in the center. The table should have butter, honey, lettuce, sweet cookies, cakes, couscous, candied fruits, a raw fish, mofleta pancakes and stalks of wheat amongst other things. These are all symbols of spring, fertility and abundance. Live music plays a central role in the celebration. Families often hire small orchestras to animate the party, people drink, dance and eat until the early hours of the morning.

This year because of social distancing, Mimouna took a markedly different character, while preserving its festive and inclusive nature. I attended four of these and will describe their similarities and differences below.

The night of the Mimouna on April 16, The European Jewish Cultural and Academic Center (ECUJE) held a virtual Mimouna party on zoom entitled La Grande Mimouna starting at 11pm Paris time. The tile view showed over 900 people in attendance throughout the world in Israel, France, Morocco, New York and Montreal amongst others, they say that there were over 25,000 that connected throughout the evening. David Benaym was the MC, Enrico Macias sang a traditional Mimouna song from his kitchen, from Marseille and dressed in a kaftan, Françoise Atlan sang a cappella, Gilbert Montagné sang a pop song in French accompanying himself on his Yamaha piano from his bedroom. Later in the evening a violinist and percussionist played some chaabi music from their apartment in Paris. Serge Berdugo, head of the Council for Israelite Communities of Morocco spoke about the communal meaning behind the Mimouna. The MC was keen to see Mr. Berdugo’s table which is famous for having splendid dishes every year. This Mimouna was able to virtually create the feeling of crowd, cacophony, live music, copious food and overall festive atmosphere that is the backbone of Mimouna celebrations without social distancing.

Chama Mechtaly, a Moroccan visual artist that lives in Dubai hosted a Virtual Mimouna on Instagram live with a Gnawa musician in Essaouira and a Jazz Trumpeter in Brooklyn on April 18. Here the central aspect was the dialogue between a Muslim and a Jewish musician and the shared improvisation of Jazz and Gnawa musical traditions. Unfortunately, because of the time lag due to being in different time zones, they were not able to play together, but discussed their previous collaborations and each played solo then commenting on each other’s playing. There was an active chat going with questions from the attendees, which were close to 30 at its height. The Mimouna ended abruptly, as Instagram automatically cut it off at the 60-minute mark while he was playing the Jewish Gnawa song on Baba Musa. Appropriate.

On April 19 the American Sephardi Federation from New York and the Mimouna Foundation based in Rabat co-hosted another virtual Mimouna with Rabbis, academics, cultural activists and community leaders and had over 500 people in attendance throughout the world. As the Instagram live Mimouna, this was a curated event where the presenters could not see the audience nor the audience see who else was in attendance. I was one of the presenters, and spoke about the opening up of th