“Let Them Eat Cake”: May Day in Haifa and the Mimouna
This year the Jewish calendar is playing tricks and the Mimouna, the North African Jewish celebration which marks the end of Passover, happened on May Day, the International Workers’ Day. This coincidence is too symbolic to ignore, and it is hard not to acknowledge the prosperity of the former and the demise of the latter.
Growing up in Haifa, the workers’ town, or as some call it “Red Haifa,” I got to participate in many May Day celebrations, and parades. Haifa (and its surrounding towns), is a major industrial center and workers, both Jewish and Arabs, have always been a high percent of the population. Thus May Day used to be a significant day for Haifa, and we all took part in the activities.
I read today that in 1984 (7 years after Menachem Begin came to power) Haifa held its last official May Day. About 100,000 people attended the celebrations, and dignitaries like Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin were present.
I wonder if May Day had to disappear in order to make room for the Mimouna. Throughout the years this tradition was has been promoted and used by politicians, and gained popularity and prominence in Israeli society. However, it doesn’t mean that North African Jews, especially in the peripheral towns are as prominent as well.
When North African Jews arrived to Israel in the 1950s –1960s many of them worked in manufacturing. Thus, the International Workers’ Day was supposed to be their day as well, a day of appreciation and solidarity. But somehow they were led to believe that May Day was not their holiday.
It is true that the May Day celebrations were part of the socialist regime, and it is a well-known secret that North African Jews still resent the socialist administration which mistreated them when they immigrated to Israel fifty years ago. But that party has not been in power for over 30 years. Sadly in Israel today the condition of the workers, and the rest of the lower class and the middle class, is extremely hard. What makes it even harder is the inexcusable gap between those who have and those who have not.
While May Day was an inclusive holiday, a public celebration and a day of solidarity: “all workers around the world are united,” the Mimouna is an exclusive North African tradition. In a way the Mimouna is a mirror of the differences between ethnic groups in Israel. North African Jews are the ones who host the celebrations and invite guests, it is their holiday.
I don’t suggest that we bring back the parades and the official celebrations, but it is time to recognize the workers again and give them more power. I move to reinstate May Day as a public holiday and a day which stresses solidarity with working people in Israel and around the world. Our government thrives on disagreements within Israel and attempts to Isolate the Jewish State from the world: it keeps us meek. May Day reminds us that we are not alone, in other countries there are people like us who work hard to put bread on the table, and do their best to give a decent life to their family.
There is nothing wrong with promoting ethnic celebrations, but those cannot replace a plan of action to improve the situation of the workers. We have to be suspicious of a government that distract us from the bread, and the major problems, and send us instead to “eat cake.”