Friday, April 17, 2009

Ashkelon Mimouna

The Mimouna is a traditional North African Jewish festival which starts in the evening on the last day of Passover and continues the next day. It marks the return to eating chametz, i.e., leavened bread which is forbidden throughout the week of Passover.
After two days of "chamsin", Thursday - the day of the Mimouna, started off rainy so it was touch and go whether the celebration would take place or not. Luckily Mayor Benny Vaknin remained firm and refused to cancel, and eventually the sun came out.

In Ashkelon, with its large number of immigrants from Morocco, the Mimouna has become a popular annual "happening" featuring outdoor picnics and BBQs. The Mayor of Ashkelon presides over a traditional Mimouna tent and invites Ashkelonians and visiting dignitaries from all over the world to drop by.

Mayor Benny Vaknin with visiting dignitaries inside the ceremonial Mimouna tent. Shlomo Cohen (Deputy Mayor of Ashkelon & Chairman of the Ashkelon-Baltimore steering committee), Sigal Ariely (Director of the Ashkelon-Baltimore partnership) and Iris Leibovitch (Director, Economic Development Office, Municipality of Ashkelon) outside the ceremonial tent.

Galit Amzallag (Director of International Relations, Municipality of Ashkelon) inside the ceremonial tent.

The Mimouna also marks the start of spring. In 1966, the Mimouna was introduced as a national holiday in Israel. In practice everyone decides for themselves whether they want to work or take a half day holiday.

Shlomo Cohen, discussing security arrangements with police officers outside the tent.

Border police on guard at the event

Moroccan and Algerian Jews open their homes to visitors, and lay a table spread with traditional holiday cakes and sweets. The particular Mimouna treat is Mofletta, a kind of crepe, folded over and drenched in honey. Another favorite is sfinj, a salty yeasty deepfried type of doughnut, dipped in sugar. The Mimouna celebration table is also laid with various symbols of luck, with an emphasis on the number "5," such as 5 pieces of gold jewelry or 5 green branches.

Moufleta (left) and Sfinj (right), traditional North African desserts served at the Mimouna celebration.

Every year at the Mimouna festival, the grass at the Ashkelon National Park is crowded with families enjoying themselves.

Antiquities in the Ashkelon national park.

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