With this year's Mimouna, or Moroccan end-of-Passover, celebrations coopted by Israeli presidential campaigns, at least the city of Lod provided something different: an effort to break the Guinness world record for the biggest mufleta, a traditional North-African Jewish fried pastry.
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While a cynical observer might describe the event as a modern a version of ancient Rome’s bread and circuses dipped in too much honey, for the many Lod residents who gathered on a lawn near the Lod Center mall, the municipal-sponsored mufleta-making was a moment of joy and release. The event, which took place under an elected mayor following seven Passovers on which the city was run by an appointed committee, was also an opportunity for the city to repair its bad reputation. Never mind that during the event, only a short distance away, three people were wounded in a gangland assassination attempt.
Upon entering a traditional Moroccan tent set up on the lawn, presidential candidate MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud) was declared Israel’s next president on the public address system. “This is the most Israeli holiday,” said Rivlin, two or three times. When asked what he thought of turning the celebration into a springboard to the presidency, Rivlin replied, “We’re campaigning every day of the year.”
Journalists tend to mock the association of Mimouna with politicians, but for the residents of Lod, a small city, it was a rare opportunity to actually see the people they helped elect. While many Lod residents voted for the ruling Likud party, they claim this is the first time they’ve seen the party’s leadership in person. They were thrilled that the Mimouna had come back to town after decades without a mass public celebration and praised new Mayor Yair Revivo to the skies. Revivo was wearing a "tarbush" Moroccan hat and white robe that made his greenish tie stand out. It actually took me a while to realize that he was the mayor; politicians are usually formal and full of themselves, while he looked like an entertainer with a big smile.
Soon Revivo introduced MK Haim Katz as the “mythical chairman of Israel Aircraft Industries, the Ashkenazi of the bunch,” but Katz mysteriously disappeared and instead Sports and Culture Minister Limor Livnat appeared. Then came Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, described by the mayor as, “A good friend and colleague, who, with God’s help, will build a new military camp here.”
It was only at around 11 PM that we were ushered to the site where “the world’s biggest mufleta” was to be prepared. It was late, and people were hungry. Some left, saying they’d see the rest on the news. Revivo didn’t look worried. “The city of Lod is going to break a lot of records,” he said, standing near Ya’alon and Livnat, who were soon joined by Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Communications Minister Gilad Erdan. At some point, MK Miri Regev (Likud), wearing a blue traditional dress, popped in, glad-handing everyone standing around the mufleta, and then disappeared. “This is a historic moment,” said Revivo.
But more than historic, it was rather absurd. There were a bunch of government ministers standing next to a huge frying pan with white dough on it. The mayor, without embarrassment, started to straighten out the dough on the frying pan. Erdan also massaged the mufleta a bit, as did several city councilors.
Because of all the straightening and massaging, some in the crowd lost interest in tasting it. “I’d rather not,” said 13-year-old Lidor Sabag. “Everyone touched it.” It was nearly midnight when the burners under the huge frying pan were finally turned on.
Eventually, the mufleta was declared ready. A woman named Yaeli, who is apparently connected to the Guinness World Records organization, had to taste it and declare that it was a true mufleta. Then, the mufleta was turned over on the fire, but only for a few minutes, leaving only one side really fried. The pastry was then distributed to the crowd by firefighters who had supervised the cook. It was 15 minutes past midnight. By then, I assume, most journalists had left, going off to tell the world of the world’s biggest mufleta.
Permit me to object. I’m no great mufleta expert, and I can’t help but admire the efforts to rehabilitate Lod and its new mayor’s energy. But this is a problematic record. The mufleta declared a record was only fried on one side, and when it was turned, it broke up into many little mufletas. Many pieces were distributed without honey; at least there was none on the pieces I got. Who ever heard of a mufleta that’s not sweet?
So while I hate to be a spoilsport, it wasn’t really a mufleta. I’m certainly not the only one who thought so. “I’ve eaten pitas that tasted better than this,” said a municipal employee near me, who was trying to give away her piece. “It’s disgusting,” said another man. “It’s not done enough.”
A patriotic group of teens begged me not to publish my conclusions, which they felt were liable to destroy Lod’s fragile image. “You’ve gotta understand,” one of them said. “We’re a small city and this is the first time we’re in the Guinness Book of Records. Give us a break!”