Pride of place
Melanie Lidman
Pride of place
There is no better place to celebrate a community's return to Jerusalem than the Haas Promenade in Armon Hanatziv, where a breathtaking view of the city's rolling hills stretches out in every direction towards the horizon, a dramatic "welcome home." Sigd is observed 50 days after Yom Kippur to commemorate the acceptance of the Torah, remembering the 50 days the Israelites waited for the Torah at Mount Sinai. Ethiopians have been celebrating in Jerusalem for more than 20 years, but this was the first year Sigd, which ran from November 2-16, was recognized as a national holiday. Prayers to mark the end of Sigd started on Monday with a procession of kesim - Ethiopian Jewish spiritual leaders - bearing brightly ornamented umbrellas. The haunting melodies of prayers in Ge'ez, an ancient South Semitic language, that recall Beta Israel's yearning for Jerusalem, echoed across the hills as hundreds of women dressed in white shawls raised their hands toward the stage. According to the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, more than 3,500 people were bused in from around the country. Unofficial estimates put the crowd at around 7,000 people. The challenge of Sigd is twofold, according to community leaders: to educate Israeli society about the traditions and history of a marginalized group, and to connect with a younger generation that has trouble understanding the prayers and doesn't relate to the idea of longing for a city they can see in front of them. The generational division at Sigd was stark during the day's ceremony. The older people clustered around the main stage for prayers until noon and then for a succession of speeches by community and spiritual leaders, while the younger generation occupied the rest of the promenade, hanging out and catching up with friends. The sheer number of Ethiopian immigrants gathered was empowering for a group that is often marginalized by Israeli society. Shva Na, a performance group of 14- to 17-year-old Ethiopian Scouts who perform around the country, summed up the community's challenges towards the end of their show: "We need to not be afraid to return to our roots, but also to be part of the nation of Israel."
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