jewish celebration

US Jews explore Ethiopian Sigd holiday

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Hundreds of American Jews participated in “Sigd: A Virtual Celebration of Jewish Unity,” last week.

While Cheshvan is commonly known as the only Hebrew month that has no holidays or fast days, Jews from Ethiopia have been observing a festival on 29 Cheshvan, 50 days after Yom Kippur, for centuries.

Known as Sigd — “prostration” in Ge’ez, the Ethiopian liturgical language — it’s a day of rededication to G-d and the Torah, a celebration of the connection of the community to Jerusalem, and a commitment to Jewish unity.

In other words, it’s the ultimate Zionist festival.

In 2008, the Knesset recognized Sigd as a national holiday, raising awareness of both the festival and of Jews of Ethiopian origin. For the 120,000 who emigrated from Ethiopia to Israel since the early 1980s, it’s a combination fast day, day of thanksgiving and clan gathering.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog offered introductory greetings at the virtual American celebration last Wednesday, joining guest speaker Sharon Shalom, who immigrated to Israel alone from Ethiopia in 1982 and now teaches at Ono Academic College, while also serving as spiritual leader of the Kedoshei Yisrael community in Kiryat Gat.

“I remember my grandfather used to open the Bible and sit with us and tell us how the prophets promised to us that one day we will be in Jerusalem — that G-d gathers all the Jews from around the world and will bring them to Jerusalem,” Shalom said. “We were told that this city is made entirely of gold, and when you open a faucet, instead of water, milk and honey come running out. This is a promise to a nation that spent 2,000 years in exile. Finally, we’re here today.”

“Today, so many discussions are black and white,” she added. “We want to put people in a box — are you Sephardi or Ashkenazi, religious or secular, Orthodox or Reform? Ethiopian Jews bring something very unique to the Jewish world. The Sigd prayer focuses on communal repentance and redemption, it’s about solidarity. Joy flows from that solidarity. Ethiopian Jews act as a bridge towards other Jews.”

The discussion with Shalom was moderated by the Jewish Agency’s regional director to the Northeast, Sigal Kanotopsky, a well-known Ethiopian Israeli leader who immigrated to Israel with her family 39 years ago through Sudan. Ethiopian Israeli singer and songwriter Aviva Desa performed three songs during the event and Ethiopian shlichim from around the world shared their personal Sigd stories.

“Sigd is much more than an Ethiopian holiday,” said Kanotopsky. “It belongs on the Hebrew calendar, just like any other Jewish holiday. In particular, this holiday marks an important occasion to spread a message of Jewish unity. Jewish communities around the world grow closer by learning about each other’s unique customs and cultures.”

Herzog stated that Sigd “is an opportunity to honor an extraordinary community and the extraordinary courage of the Jews who set out by foot from Ethiopia for thousands of miles on a dangerous journey all the way to Jerusalem — to remember the untold story of those who perished along the way, and to recognize the important contributions of the Ethiopian Jewish community to the State of Israel and to the Jewish people at-large.” JNS

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