Chag Sigd 2012 / Jessica Baverman, Yahel Social Change Program Participant

On November 14, we traveled to Jerusalem to experience the Sigd celebration. Sigd is an Ethiopian Jewish holiday that honors the acceptance of the Torah and commemorates the communal act of repentance. Traditionally, individuals dress in white, walk to the highest mountain in the area, and pray as a group for the return to Jerusalem and end of exile. Now, since most of the Ethiopian Jewish population lives in Israel, the holiday is more symbolic. People come from all over Israel to pray and hear the kessim (Ethiopian Jewish religious leaders) read Torah in Ge’ez (the holy language of Ethiopian Jews and Christians).

During the celebration, Kessim hold colorful umbrellas and read from the Torah.

One thing that we have talked about recently is the future meaning of Sigd. Teenagers frequently make different priorities, and there were many teens hanging out outside of the venue. Thinking about how I was bored or did not want to be in synagogue during the High Holidays as a kid, I empathize with the kids. Even so, a question remains: how will the young people who were born in Israel feel about the holiday in the future? It seemed to me that many of the kids understood what Sigd is and its meaning, but they felt disassociated from it. How will Sigd change? It already has since Ethiopian Jews have come to Israel. What will Sigd look like? This is a specific Ethiopian Jewish holiday that is a way to connect Ethiopian Jews in Israel to their heritage. It would be unfortunate to erase this aspect of Ethiopian Jewish identity because diversity among Jews should be celebrated. The Ashkenazim and Sephardim have specific customs that became part of Jewish tradition throughout time. Even though they have migrated throughout the world, they maintain specific traditions as a means to preserve identity. In the same way, I think Sigd should be continued throughout the generations (if the Ethiopian Jewish community sees value in it) to sustain pride in being Ethiopian and Jewish in Israel.

Ashkenazi boys chat briefly with Ethiopian Jewish women.

Right now, it seems the older people carry on the holiday. Will the celebration continue in a similar way once the immigrant population has passed on? I feel that I have a new appreciation for Jewish customs as I’ve grown older, and perhaps this will be the same for the kids as they grow, as well. Regardless, it was a great day and we got to see interactions between non-Ethiopians and Ethiopian Jews. In the US, we frequently only hear about Ashkenazi and Sephardi traditions, but it is important to learn and gain awareness about the vast diversity within Judaism.

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