Passover ends — let the Mimouna festivities begin

When Passover ends, Moroccan Jews don't quietly unpack their chametz.

Instead, they celebrate the day after Passover as a festival called Mimouna. In recent years, this custom has become increasingly popular among all Israeli Jews.

Mimouna is believed to have originated in Fez, Morocco, although it is unclear exactly when. The festivities begin at nightfall with the conclusion of Passover.

Everyone again gets dressed in their holiday finest. Tables are set with white tablecloths bedecked with flowers, green stalks of wheat, pitchers of milk and wine, eggs, dates, honey, assorted fruits, vegetables and sweets.

The Jews of Marrakesh, Morocco, have another special custom. They prepare some of the dishes with wine saved from Elijah's Cup, as well as any wine left over from the Four Cups.

In many parts of Morocco, there is a custom not to eat dairy products during Passover. In contrast, Mimouna features dairy products, a special post-Passover treat.

The night's activity consists of visiting home after home, singing songs, exchanging greetings and blessings, and sampling a token food at each house. At each stop the head of the household blesses the guests. There is also significance to the order of the visitations. People first go to the rabbi's house, then to their parents' homes and then to other homes of significance.

This is also the time for young people to initiate courtships. Already engaged bridegrooms send precious ornaments to their future brides and dine with their future in-laws.

The festivities continue the next morning with picnics in public parks. There are some individuals who refrain from eating bread until the daytime Mimouna picnic — even though it is permissible the night before. This is to show the love of matzah and how hard it is to break away from God's commandments.

The origins of this celebration are not clear, but there are many suggestions. Some link it to the Hebrew/Arabic word mammon, which means "wealth and money." It was believed that one's prosperity would be determined on that day.

Others link it to the Hebrew word emunah meaning faith. There is a tradition that, just as the Jews were redeemed from Egypt in the month of Nisan, so too the future redemption will occur in Nisan. Because most of the month is gone by the end of Passover, this "holiday of faith" is designed to demonstrate that the people have not lost faith and still believe that the Messiah can yet come this year.

Other traditions link the name to Maimon, the father of Maimonides, whose yahrzeit is on the day after Passover, or to a beautiful legend about Rabbi Moshe Amar, a celebrated scholar and kabbalist, who miraculously saved Moroccan Jewry in 1853 right before Passover.

As described, Mimouna was once primarily an all-night event characterized by visiting many homes in the community and was observed almost universally by Moroccan Jews. It was a festival of friendship, togetherness, and shared values, amid an environment of tranquillity and peace.

There was none of the rush and bustle associated with Passover preparations and the seder night.

For better or worse, it's undergone a transformation in Israel. Some of the more observant Jews are wary of commencing the nighttime celebration right after Passover, fearing that people will start preparing chametz before Passover is actually over.

In addition, non-Moroccan Jews have adopted only the daytime picnic aspect, creating massive barbecues in parks around the country.

In response politicians have cashed in on these enormous picnics by criss-crossing the country delivering "words of greeting."

Parks are filled with barbecue grills and bands. Still, the traditional spirit is not lost.

The bands play Jewish music, extended families host joint barbecues and Moroccan Jews dress in traditional g