Ethiopian Sigd part of national heritage [video]

For Israel’s Ethiopian community, the Sigd holiday is one of the most significant of the year. Now it’s becoming part of Israel’s national tradition too.

At a ceremony at the President’s House marking the Ethiopian Sigd holiday, President Shimon Peres marveled at how Ethiopian Jewry has survived not only an environment of assimilation, but also hostility from so many sides.

“This is truly a miracle,” he said, “and it’s not just your festival, it’s the festival of the whole of Israel.” Indeed, the Sigd is entering the Israeli psyche as part of the national heritage.

This was the second consecutive year in which the Sigd festival activities were launched at Beit Hanassi and the 10th year in which Sigd was celebrated in Israel. The event coincided with the 25th anniversary of Operation Moses, the cooperative effort of the Mossad, the Israel Air Force and the Israel Navy to covertly transport some 8,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

Sigd celebration with President Shimon Peres

Photo by Mark Neyman/GPO/FLASH90.
President Shimon Peres meets with Ethiopians during the opening ceremony of the Ethiopian Jewish Sigd holiday at the President’s House in Jerusalem.

The holiday, which is also a fast day, is traditionally marked on the 29th day of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan, which is 50 days after Yom Kippur. Unique to the Ethiopian Jewish community, Sigd was first celebrated in Israel by members of the Ethiopian community in the early 1980s.

In February 2008, MK Uri Ariel submitted legislation to the Knesset that would see Sigd established as an Israeli national holiday. The Knesset officially added Sigd to the list of state holidays in July 2008.

The word ‘sigd’ is Amharic word for ‘prostration.’ The celebration of the festival in Israel is marked by a fast and a gathering in Jerusalem, during which the Kessim (the Ethiopian religious leaders) read from the Orit (an Amharic version of the Torah). The ritual is followed by the breaking of the fast, dancing, and celebration.