Who embraced Sigd this year: From CENTCOM to US Jewish organizations

Sigd has been a national holiday in Israel since 2008.  

AN ISRAELI ETHIOPIAN woman prays during a ceremony marking the holiday of Sigd, in Jerusalem in 2019. (photo credit: CORINNA KERN/REUTERS)
AN ISRAELI ETHIOPIAN woman prays during a ceremony marking the holiday of Sigd, in Jerusalem in 2019.
(photo credit: CORINNA KERN/REUTERS)

US Central Command has a Hebrew Twitter account. It was established in August 2021. It combines tweets about US forces with some content that is linked specifically to Israel, such as the recent Blue Flag exercise that took place in Israel. This is because Israel is now under US Central Command’s area of operations. Among the recent tweets, it celebrated the Ethiopian Jewish holiday of Sigd with a tweet “Hag Sigd Sameach” or happy Sigd holiday. The US Embassy in Jerusalem also wished a happy Sigd to “all of the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel.” Sigd has been a national holiday in Israel since 2008.  

The Sigd holiday is marked in Israel today with radio programs and other events, as well as large numbers of Ethiopian Jews gathering in Jerusalem. It’s a unique holiday that brings together the traditions and customs of a minority community in Israel. There are also Ethiopian Jews abroad. The Jewish Agency has had articles about bringing Sigd to the US and marking the holiday. Canadian Hadassah-WIZO also had an article about the holiday in 2018. There have been celebrations in Canada and other places and articles noting that the holiday can and should be marked by Jewish communities globally. Bnei Akiva in the US and Canada mentioned the holiday in 2019 and there have been other events.  

In Israel, the holiday was widely acknowledged this year, especially on social media. The Israeli Air Force did a special event and groups like Be’chol Lashon, Stand With Us and British Emunah all tweeted about it. Israeli Ambassadors like Gilad Erdan celebrated, and Jewish media outlets wrote articles.  

While some prominent Jewish organizations abroad mark the holiday, others seem to forget to mention it. UJA-Federation in New York wrote on Facebook: “wishing Ethiopian Jews and all Jews a happy and meaningful Sigd! The holiday begins tonight at sundown and celebrates the acceptance of the Torah and the connection to Jerusalem.” The organization linked to a JTA piece by Shula Mola about the holiday. The American Jewish Committee commemorated the holiday, noting “today, Ethiopian Jews in Israel and around the world celebrate Sigd, a holiday symbolizing the acceptance of the Torah and the return to Jerusalem.” The World Jewish Congress wrote on November 3 “Ethiopian Jews celebrate the holiday of Sigd starting tonight, taking place 50 days after Yom Kippur. It is a holiday about accepting the Torah, and a yearning to return to Zion.” 

B’nai B’rith, which calls itself “the Global Voice of the Jewish community and a leader in advancing human rights, combating antisemitism,” didn’t appear to mention the holiday on its social media this year. B’nai Brith Canada has mentioned the holiday in the past, in a tweet in 2017. AIPAC didn’t seem to mention the holiday this year.  

‘PERFORMING FOR a pittance’: Sigd prayers in Jerusalem on November 16. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)‘PERFORMING FOR a pittance’: Sigd prayers in Jerusalem on November 16. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

There is a noticeable lack of acknowledgment of the holiday which is particularly stark among the progressive side of the Jewish spectrum in the US. This isn’t due to a lack of discussion of Israel and Jewish issues in Israel. How to “engage” and discuss Israel is one of the key topics for many prominent American Jewish discussions these days. This is especially true of those who want a robust critique of Israel’s policies but also claim to want to engage with the country.  

A survey of social media accounts of prominent voices from this part of the community however reveals a lack of acknowledgment of Sigd, a surprising absence considering the discussion of diversity and the need to embrace minorities, people of color and those suffering racism, of which the Ethiopian Jewish community is an important component. Peter Beinart hosted a discussion about “are Zionists allowed on the American Left” on October 28. His social media account didn’t appear to mention Sigd. The T’ruah Rabbinic Call for Human Rights has programs where they say participants discuss and feel connected to Israel. But the Twitter account of the group didn’t appear to mention Sigd this year. Rabbi Jill Jacobs, head of the group, has wished happy holidays to other groups, but Sigd appears absent.  

The lack of mention of the holiday isn’t due to a lack of acknowledgment of other holidays and events, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Hanukkah, which is coming up, comes in for a mention, for instance. The Workers Circle for instance notes “how does the history of Jewish advocacy on behalf of Black citizens shape how we advance racial justice today?” The organization is 

“a proudly progressive, diverse and inclusive community rooted in Jewish culture and social action for more than a century.” It didn’t seem that Sigd was mentioned this year though. 

The New York Times had an article on the “unraveling of American Zionism” and a “new generation of Jewish leaders.” It’s not clear how many of these new leaders mention the diversity of Jewish communities in Israel or the Sigd holiday, but a review of social media linked to some of the names in the articles doesn’t seem to show recognition for the holiday. The National Council of Jewish Women retweets articles about the weekly Torah reading and one of its chapters wishes people happy Diwali. Sigd seems absent. 

In some contexts, American Jews are having a lively discussion about finding “new ways to grapple with Israel”, the title of the review written by Dov Waxman of several books that recently ran in The New York Times. One of those books is by the CEO of the New Israel Fund. The book is called ‘Can we Talk about Israel’ and promises to be a “guide for the curious, confused and confounded.” However, it’s not clear that the new discussion about Israel includes most of the Jewish communities in Israel, such as Ethiopian Jews, either in the discussion or even in mentioning their holidays. Neither Dov Waxman, reviewer of the books, or the New Israel Fund appeared to mention Sigd in the last weeks among their many tweets. The NIF is “the leading organization advancing and protecting liberal democracy in Israel,” according to its Twitter account. Liberal democracy would appear to all holidays, such as Sigd since liberal values are generally supposed to be inclusive of all groups.  

The Republican Jewish Coalition recently held a large annual leadership meeting with Republican heavyweights. The group didn’t appear to mention Sigd on social media, and organizations on the other side of the political aisle, such as Jewish Democratic Women for Action, also seemed absent from mentioning the holiday. 

The contrast of acknowledgment regarding the Ethiopian Jewish holiday is interesting. Although some large mainstream Jewish organizations proudly connect to Sigd and the Ethiopian Jewish community, the official holiday in Israel appears absent from the social media of organizations that claim to be interested in diversity. This contrast, between how Israel embraces diversity and how some groups in the US which claim to embrace diversity exclude Ethiopian Jews and other Jews in Israel, illustrates how, despite the claims of discussion about Israel, there is very little knowledge about the depth of Israel’s communities.  

It appears that the diverse holidays of Israel, including Sigd, are not of interest to those who talk the most about diversity in the US. This contradiction may be due to the fact that acknowledging diversity in Israel does not meet with a narrative that prefers a more shallow portrayal of Israel. This is out of step with the broader embrace of diversity that takes place in other places in the US. US Central Command’s decision to expand its tweets into Hebrew, Arabic, Kurdish and other languages while also recognizing the experiences and holidays across a swath of countries in the Middle East is evidence of that larger American embrace of diversity in the Middle East.