Hundreds of teenagers and young adults participated in Sigd celebrations on Wednesday, the annual holiday celebrated by the Ethiopian-Israeli community.
Sigd, which is rooted in the biblical Book of Nehemiah, is observed 50 days after Yom Kippur, and celebrates the renewed connection between God and the Jewish people. It also encompasses communal introspection and prayers for a return to the Land of Israel.
Bnei Akiva, Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed, Ezra, Hashomer Hatza’ir, Scouts and other organizations participated in the various activities, group discussions and prayer services, as well as the traditional march to the Western Wall at the end of the official ceremonies.
Aviva Mangisto, 20, was one of the Bnei Akiva leaders who brought along some 120 members of the movement to participate in the festivities.
Mangisto helps run the local Shahar project in her home town of Rehovot. Shahar is a program started by Bnei Akiva in 1995 that brings together youths from the Ethiopian community, providing them with leadership training and emphasizing the importance of connecting with the community’s roots and traditions.
“In recent years, more and more youth started coming to the Sigd celebrations but the prayers are said in Ge’ez, the liturgical language of Ethiopian Jewry, and the youth, as well as most adults, don’t know Ge’ez and so they didn’t have much to do,” Mangisto said.
“There was really a great need to connect the youth to the holiday and likewise to their traditions and inheritance,” she continued, adding that many Ethiopian youths are disconnected from the experiences and heritage of their community.
Numerous youth groups now stage discussion circles to engage their members in debate and dialogue about the various concerns of the Ethiopian community.
One of the Ethiopian religious leaders present for the festivities, Kes Efraim Lawi, 28, provided spiritual content by performing the blessing over bread and addressing the youth.
Eden, 16, of Afula said she chose to attend the events in order to preserve the Ethiopian traditions.
“My parents came here for Sigd, they celebrated Sigd in Ethiopia, and we’re now continuing this tradition in Jerusalem and Israel,” she said. “It’s important to do so to unite the Ethiopian community and maintain our identity, otherwise we’re all the same.”
Ortal, also 16, concurred.
“That’s what’s great about our people. At the end of the day, we’re all Jews, but we all come from different places and we should preserve those different characteristics.”
“We should celebrate the different traditions of each different community, which all have their own character, but we must participate in them together. Sigd shouldn’t just be for Ethiopians, but for everyone,” Eden added.
Lawi said that although only the Ethiopian community observed the Sigd festival in the Diaspora, the holiday has clear biblical roots and should be observed by the wider Jewish public.
“Our job as the Ethiopian community is to disseminate and continue to integrate and connect the Jewish people to this festival and celebrate it together,” he said.
He also insisted that it is critical for Ethiopian youth to preserve their identity as they integrate into Israeli society.
“Many youth who come here are looking for their identity and trying to find themselves here.
Some of them, unfortunately, are not in such a good place, the vast majority though are really great kids, from Bnei Akiva, Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed, and the others, who in the future will have influence and the option to integrate in Israeli society, they are the future,” Lawi said.
“We need to instill in them their inheritance together with their integration into Israeli society.”
Sigd traditionally represents a day of communal introspection and accounting. Lawi related this concept to the recent protests and riots against police discrimination and the perceived discrimination of the wider Israeli society against Ethiopian Israelis.
“Much has to be done by wider society. We came to this country as a right and not as a kindness. It was prophecy that was realized when God heard our prayers and brought us here.
“The mistakes were already made in absorbing the Ethiopian immigrants, so Israeli society now needs to know what is needed for the future, for tomorrow.
We made mistakes with the last generation, we now must ask how can we continue onwards with the youth and the future generation that is growing up here,” Lawi said.