A Sweet Meet­ing on Mimouna Night

Alli­son Ofanan­sky, Rotem Teplow (illus.)

  • Review
By – August 10, 2020

The cel­e­bra­tion of Mimouna marks the end of Passover in the Moroc­can Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty. The hol­i­day became pop­u­lar around two hun­dred years ago, and includes cus­toms not wide­ly known out­side of North Africa, Israel, and oth­er dias­po­ra cen­ters. A Sweet Meet­ing on Mimouna Night presents the festival’s tra­di­tions embed­ded in a sto­ry of friend­ship. While a young Jew­ish girl, Miri­am, shares much in com­mon with her Mus­lim neigh­bor, Jas­mine, she is also aware of the dif­fer­ences between their cul­tures. Empha­siz­ing both sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences between Jew­ish and Islam­ic fam­i­lies in their Fes (Fez) neigh­bor­hood, the book pro­vides details about the fes­ti­val, as well as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to dis­cuss with chil­dren what makes peo­ple both unique and interconnected.

The book’s nar­ra­tor adopts Miriam’s per­spec­tive. Eager to enjoy leav­ened bread after the eight days of Passover, Miri­am asks her moth­er where they will find flour to cook the spe­cial del­i­ca­cies mark­ing the tran­si­tion to a new week. Her moth­er brings her to vis­it their neigh­bors, pass­ing a mosque on the way. Although their homes are close by, Miri­am seems unfa­mil­iar with the mosque or with the fra­grant jas­mine vine which is the source of her friend’s name. Young read­ers fol­low Miriam’s sense of dis­cov­ery as her moth­er explains to her that Jasmine’s fam­i­ly has kept flour for their Jew­ish neigh­bors to be retrieved after their dietary restric­tions end. Ofanan­sky sub­tly com­mu­ni­cates how the bond between the two girls is also marked by sep­a­ra­tion. As they meet in the court­yard of Jasmine’s home to trans­fer the flour, the Jew­ish girl hes­i­tates: Miri­am can run across her own court­yard eas­i­ly, even at night, but here in the unfa­mil­iar court­yard, she catch­es her toe on a stone and almost falls.”

Author and illus­tra­tor depict the warmth and beau­ty of the Mimouna cel­e­bra­tion at which Jews and Mus­lims enjoy music, friend­ship, and food. Teplow’s pic­tures are del­i­cate and under­stat­ed, avoid­ing exoti­cism. The facial fea­tures of the two girls, as well as of their moth­ers, are strik­ing­ly sim­i­lar; this seems a delib­er­ate choice which height­ens the tone of ease as the two com­mu­ni­ties inter­act. One image fea­tures Miri­am in a gold-embroi­dered pur­ple dress, and Jas­mine in a green one, sur­round­ed by foods reflect­ing the col­ors of their clothes. When the adults call out, Next year in Jerusalem,” Jas­mine asks Miri­am if she and her fam­i­ly will real­ly be in that city the fol­low­ing year. A two-page spread of Miri­am and her fam­i­ly aboard a ship, with hope­ful expres­sions on their faces, answers the question.

As the book’s set­ting moves to Israel, a poignant mes­sage emerges from its rich descrip­tions of a cul­tur­al lega­cy. After 1948, sev­er­al waves of emi­gra­tion from Moroc­co reduced the Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion there to its cur­rent­ly small num­ber. Miri­am remem­bers her friend, even as her fam­i­ly is hap­pi­ly set­tled in their new home­land. Their sto­ry is a reminder of Jew­ish history’s tur­bu­lent course and of the way that chil­dren adapt to larg­er events in their worlds. Mimouna com­mem­o­rates the new season’s sweet­ness with­in the cycle of the Jew­ish year, and the cross-cul­tur­al exchange mir­rored in the friend­ship between two girls.

This high­ly rec­om­mend­ed book includes an after­word, What is Mimouna?”

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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