I’m so pleased to welcome Allison Ofanansky to chat about her beautiful new picture book A SWEET MEETING ON MIMOUNA NIGHT, illustrated by Rotem Teplow (Groundwood Books).
Mimouna is a Moroccan Jewish holiday celebrated right after Passover. Miriam and her mom set out to make sweet moufletot pancakes for their family celebration. They invite their Muslim neighbors, and Miriam and Jasmine strike up a friendship as they learn about each other’s holidays. A SWEET MEETING ON MIMOUNA NIGHT is about the holiday of Mimouna, but is also a celebration of community and friendship.
Allison is the author of twelve books for children. Her book, THE PATCHWORK TORAH was the winner of the National Jewish Book Award in 2014. She works as an editor and translator of academic articles and books (Hebrew to English) and she works with various organizations to promote environmental, educational, social justice, and women’s issues. Allison lives in Israel.
Allison is also a fellow member of The Book Meshuggenahs.
What inspired you to write about Mimouna?
Many years ago, I edited an academic article on Mimouna written by a Moroccan-Israeli professor [Cohen, E. H. 2003. The bitter and the sweet: A structural analysis of Mimuna. Journal of Ritual Studies, 90-98.]. From that article, I learned about Moroccan-Jewish families getting flour from their Muslim neighbors and inviting them to Mimouna celebrations, which roved from house to house throughout the Jewish quarters (mellahs).
I have been involved in interfaith activities in Israel, and wanted to write a picture book in that spirit, but without delving directly into controversial political issues. What I had learned about the Mimouna holiday struck me as a good way to show friendship between kids, and their families, from different religious backgrounds.
Is it a holiday you have celebrated?
I never heard of Mimouna before I moved to Israel in 1996. At first, I only knew it as an excuse for picnics the day after Passover. My first celebration of Mimouna was in Jerusalem in at the home of Erik Cohen in Jerusalem (the professor who wrote the article mentioned above). He greeted us at the door by dipping a stalk of green wheat into milk and sprinkling it on us as he gave the birkat ha-cohanim [priestly blessing]. Then we ate delicious mufletot with jam and made music out on their porch.
Miriam and Jasmine strike up a sweet friendship. What do you hope young readers take away from the interaction of neighbors in A SWEET MEETING ON MIMOUNA NIGHT?
One of my core beliefs is that we should meet each person as an individual, and not judge people by what social groups they are born into. I hope young readers will see that friends can be found in unexpected places. We can be proud of our own traditions without letting them become barriers against people with different traditions.
What was the research process like for this story?
It began, as I said, with editing an academic article. When I decided to write a children’s book showing a meeting between Jews and Muslims on this holiday, I interviewed many people. Erik Cohen, unfortunately, had passed away by that time – the book is dedicated to his memory. I read many other articles and books, watched videos, interviewed Moroccan Jews in Israel and abroad, and contacted a number of experts on Moroccan-Jewish history and culture, who were all extremely helpful in sharing their knowledge and giving feedback on various versions of the story. There were many.
What was your reaction when you first saw the art by Rotem Teplow?
I loved it! Rotem added to the story through her illustrations. She brought out the character of the younger brother in cute ways that are not in the text, such as him directing the musicians in the courtyard and hiding under the table.
Is there a fun or interesting fact that you learned that wasn’t included in the final story?
I learned a lot about the political and social relations between Jews and Muslims in Morocco and the mass migration of the Jews from Morocco to Israel (and other places). Some of my early versions of the manuscript alluded to this, but I cut much of it to focus the story on the friendship between the two girls.
I never realized before that mufletot are *almost* matzah. They are much more like matzah than, say, cookies or quick breads are. Mufletot are quite similar to the Mizrahi style of homemade matzah except they include a few ingredients other than flour and water, and they are allowed to rise for 20 minutes – just over the 18-minute time limit in which matzah must be made.
This is my only book that was also published in Hebrew. In fact, it was published in Hebrew first, in 2019, as שק של מזל (Sack of Luck) by Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir, translated by Devorah Busheri. It was listed as a recommended book for grades 1-3 by the Israel Ministry of Education https://edu.gov.il/…/contest/Pages/BookList2020.aspx
Thank you, Allison!