Bnei Akiva’s Ethiopian Youth Celebrate Sigd in Jerusalem

November 14, 2012  

Youth from Bnei Akiva’s HaShachar Project for Ethiopians arrived on Tuesday evening at the pedestrian mall in Jerusalem, where they celebrated Sigd, a traditional holiday celebrated by the Ethiopian Jewish community.

The date for Sigd is the 29th day of the Hebrew month of Heshvan, which marks 50 days after Yom Kippur parallel to the halakhah of counting the Omer between Passover and Shavuot.

The term “Sigd” is based on the Hebrew word “segida,” which is used to describe a form of bowing in worship to G-d. The day is split into two: A lengthy morning service featuring prayers, supplications and fasting, and an afternoon feast with music and dancing.

The morning prayers include requests for forgiveness from G-d and from fellow Jews – much like on Yom Kippur – and a prayer that G-d bring the community to Jerusalem. Traditionally members of the community would ascend a high mountain, where the prayers and the reading of the Torah were conducted. The reading including many of the “highlights” of the Torah, including the Ten Commandments, sections describing blessings and curses of G-d, and readings from the prophets.

This signifies a yearly re-acceptance of the Torah, parallel to the giving of the Torah on Shavuot and modeled after re-acceptance ceremony led by Ezra the Scribe when the Jews returned from Babylon to build the Second Temple.

The apex of the prayers comes around noontime, when the special “Maharana” is recited, and the community leader – the Kess – collects donations for the poor from congregants, as he exhorts members of the community to repent. The prayers are closed with the sounding of the shofar, and a procession down the mountain, with congregants following the Torah scrolls and kessim, singing and dancing as they descend the mountain. From there, congregants join in a communal feast, which takes place in a large sukkah, with traditional Ethiopian foods such as the flat, spongy bread called injera.

The Bnei Akiva youth set up traditional Ethiopian food and drink stands at the pedestrian mall, presented a play about Sigd and sang traditional songs to passersby. The Bnei Akiva youth held similar activities at the Jerusalem pedestrian mall last year as well.

The youth told Arutz Sheva that they “feel great excitement. We are pleased to meet the people in the pedestrian mall and explain to them about Sigd, which is a holiday which belongs to all the people of Israel.”

Sigd was first celebrated in Israel by members of the Ethiopian community in the early 1980s. In February 2008, MK Uri Ariel (National Union) 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 law says that Sigd would be marked on the 29th day of Cheshvan in a special assembly organized by the Ministry of Education.

MK Ariel said on Tuesday, “I am proud to have been the one who added Sigd to the Israeli calendar. The Ethiopian community is warm and wonderful, and many of its members are slowly fitting into key positions in Israeli society.”

He added, “I want to congratulate the community on this special holiday which symbolizes the renewal of the covenant and the longing for the connection to the people of Israel and to the land of Israel. I’m sure that, with G-d’s help, next year we will celebrate the holiday knowing that the last Ethiopian Jews have come home.”

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