Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Minsk's First Mimouna

On the evening of Sunday, April 27th, Jewish Minskers celebrated their very first Mimouna. Originally a tradition observed by Jews from North Africa, a Mimouna is a party held on the evening when Pesach is finished and Jews get to trade in their bread of affliction for chametz-o-licious treats. Accordingly, the Mimouna is an evening filled with songs, dance, and most importantly, said treats. One especially traditional and tasty Mimouna delicacy is called moufletta. It is basically a folded crepe with honey and butter inside. Nothing says chametz-o-licious quite like moufletta.

In Israel today, the mimouna celebration is enjoyed by Jews fro
m all over the world, Sephardi and Ashkenazi alike. Inspired by this synergy of traditions, I decided to organize a Mimouna in Minsk. Basically every Jew in Minsk is Ashkenazi. At least one grandparent of nearly all my friends here speaks Yiddish. But Jews here are still hungry for knowledge (and moufletta!) about Jewish traditions from around the world. Thanks to Moishe House and the JDC, Natasha and I were able to organize this event in the big hall of the Minsk Jewish Campus. Preparations began weeks in advance, with our advertisement which we posted in many of the Minsk Jewish youth clubs and organization offices.

Then we decided the "program" for the evening. Here in Minsk, people rarely just throw a casual party. An unwritten social rule is that there must be a program for the evening.

Mimouna Minsk Program

We began the evening with Havdalah, which in this case sanctified the separation between the holiday at the end of Pesach and the rest of the week.
Mimouna is said to celebrate the luck of the people of Israel that God parted the Sea of Reeds and allowed them to escape the Egyptians. While Pesach remembers the moment of the exodus from Egypt, Mimouna remembers the arrival at the sea, which occurred seven days after leaving Egypt. Thus, we decorated the stage and curtain to look like the Sea of Reeds, complete with waves and fish.
Our emcees, the charming Olga and Dima, also connected quite literally to the theme of the parting the sea. Olga dressed as Moses and held her staff high to part the sea curtain for the first act. And Dima dressed as Moses' sister Miriam who lead the women with their timbrels in a victory song and dance after the seas had parted. They introduced themselves in character and lead our audience through the Mimouna performances with grace, aplomb, and, well, gender fluidity.

Our first performers were from the Hillel dance group and they performed an Israeli folk dance in pairs.

Later in the evening, the ladies and one brave young man performed a middle eastern style dance for us as well.

Our next act was the wonderful singer, a true Belarusian Jewish diva, Anya Shalutina.

Each act was separated by the presentation of some slides with information and pictures of Mimouna celebrations throughout history. The presentation was translated into Russian and can be seen here, and for the English version,
click here. Use the arrows to control the slides.
And last but not least, a professional belly dancer named Karima performed two dances for us and then taught our guests some moves. One of her dances was choreographed especially for us to a song in Ladino sung by Yasmin Levy. The audience was surprised to hear that just as the Jews from this region once commonly spoke Yiddish, the Jews of pre- and post- Inquisition Spain spoke Ladino.

Then the evening continued with Israeli, Turkish, and Arabic disco dancing. And sure enough, by 11pm, there was not a trace of moufletta left. When the last song was over and everyone began to leave, I overheard one friend remark that she hopes they'll have a Mimouna again next year. I hope so too.

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