For two millennia the Jews of Ethiopia celebrated a unique holiday, Sigd, 50 days after Yom Kippur, which marked the ancient giving of the Torah by reciting Psalms, fasting, dancing, hiking to the nearest mountain and longing to return to the Promised Land.
Now returned to the land of Israel, Ethiopian Jews continue to celebrate Sigd.
This year, for the first time, Sigd was an official state holiday.
The Knesset earlier this year added Sigd — the Amharic word comes from the term for prostration — to the country’s official holiday calendar, and thousands of Ethiopian Jews, joined by many non-Ethiopian onlookers, congregated last week at the Haas Promenade, overlooking the walls of the Old City, for prayers and songs.
“We’re here to celebrate the Sigd,” said a young Ethiopian girl. “But it’s not just about Sigd, it’s also about unity. Look around: Today all the Ethiopians in Israel are standing together as one.”
Members of the scattered Ethiopian community, secular and religious, old and young, ascend to Jerusalem on crowded chartered buses each year, passing makeshift booths where items from snacks to books of Psalms are sold.
A group of kessim, the Ethiopian Jews’ religious leaders, above, lead communal Sigd prayers, and read from an Amharic translation of the Torah, above. Ethiopian Jewish women, left, raise their hands in prayer.
“When we were in Ethiopia, part of Sigd was to pray that we would merit coming to Jerusalem,” said Yisraela, an émigré from Ethiopia. “Now that we’re here, we’re living in Israel, the soul searching that I think we need to do is about how we can succeed in Israeli society, and how we can truly fulfill the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, it its fullest sense.”