For 1,500 years, Ethiopia’s Jews held onto their Jewish traditions, praying on the Sigd holiday to return one day to Jerusalem. Now in Israel, they continue to celebrate, but this year, all of Israel celebrates too.
They may already be in Israel, but Ethiopia’s ‘lost’ Jews, continue to celebrate Sigd, a holiday celebrating the longing for Israel and honoring those who died trying to get here. Now it’s been declared a national holiday, and Israelis of all origins are celebrating the special day.
Israel’s Ethiopian community is also known as the Beta Israel community. Descendants of one of the “lost” tribes of Israel, for thousands of years they held onto their Jewish tradition in Ethiopia, celebrating Sigd, a holiday symbolizing the acceptance of the Jewish covenant on Mount Sinai. Every year on the Sigd they climbed the mountain Amburver in Ethiopia, where they prayed to God to bring them to Jerusalem.
In the ’80s and ’90s, their prayers were answered. A series of top-secret operations coordinated by Israel and the CIA airlifted thousands of Ethiopian Jews into Israel and away from the dangers of civil war and famine.
Even though most Ethiopian Jews have returned to what they see as their biblical home in Israel, they continue to celebrate the Sigd, and this year, all of Israel celebrated with them.
The Israeli Association for Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ) successfully lobbied for the African-Jewish holiday to be adopted as an Israeli national holiday. This year, for the first time, President Peres hosted a special celebration at his house to mark the holiday and schools had mandatory educational programs.