After 30 years of Jewish immigration from Ethiopia, the State of Israel will finally mark the community's flagship festival, Sig'd, in an official ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on Monday.
"We are delighted to be part of this historic step," said Avi Masfin, deputy director of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ), one of the organizations instrumental in gaining recognition for the ancient Ethiopian Jewish holiday. "After 30 years of aliya, this official event is finally a sign of real recognition for the culture and tradition of Ethiopian Jews in Israel."
Taking place 50 days after Yom Kippur, on Heshvan 29, Sig'd is traditionally marked by members of the Ethiopian community in a religious ceremony on Jerusalem's Haas Promenade. Spiritual leaders known as Kesim lead the people in a series of prayers in the Ethiopian Jewish language of Gez, calling for a Jewish return to Jerusalem, and individuals are urged to repent for any wrongs done in the past year. This year the holiday falls on November 16.
Two years ago, during the festival the IAEJ called on the state to include Sig'd among the country's national holidays as a mark of recognition for the 110,000-strong immigrant community. The idea was picked up by MK Uri Ariel (National Union) in November 2007 and turned into legislation that passed its first reading in March 2008. It finally became a national law in August 2008.
Under the law, the state is required to mark the festival in an official ceremony using funds from the Prime Minister's Office, and people are allowed the option of observing the day by not working.
In addition, the Education Ministry is required to include a learning module about Sig'd and its significance for Ethiopian Jews in the national education curriculum.
"Sig'd is a good opportunity for us to become familiar with the practices and traditions of the Ethiopian Jewish community and learn about their history," commented a spokesman for President Shimon Peres. "The Beta Israel community is a natural and inseparable part of Zionist history and also of the culture and people of the State of Israel."
He added: "We are very proud of the contributions they have made to Israel in sports, science, arts and security."
While recognizing the integration of Ethiopian Jewry over the past 30 years into mainstream Israeli society, Masfin said it was still important to recognize that the Beta Israel had "its own rich history and tradition."
As well as the opening event at the President's Residence on Monday morning, there will be workshops and cultural events throughout the entire month of November, including the annual religious and cultural gathering on Jerusalem's Haas Promenade on November 16.