Unique Ethiopian-Jewish holiday celebrated with umbrellas, prayers, fasting

Thousands gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Sigd, a unique holiday of the Ethiopian-Jewish community, on Wednesday.

By Ben Bresky, World Israel News

On Wednesday, thousands gathered at Jerusalem’s Sherover Promenade overlooking the Old City for the holiday of Sigd. Israeli officials, including President Reuven Rivlin and Minister of Culture Miri Regev were in attendance.

Sigd is a holiday unique of the Ethiopian-Jewish community and celebrates the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon in the 6th century B.C.E.

The holiday represents the giving of the Torah. Among its rituals, members of the community ascend a hilltop to recite prayers, as described in the biblical books of Ezra and Nehemia. In Nehemiah, Ezra reads the “book of the law of Moses” before the returning exiles.

On Thursday, the official gathering was on the hilltop in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood of Jerusalem where ‘kessim,’ or religious leaders, conducted the services.

Dressed in traditional white robes, turbans and holding colorful umbrellas,the kessim chanted Torah verses and other prayers within sight of the Old City.

Women dressed in flowing white robes lifted their palms upward. The practice is inspired by a verse in Nehemiah:  “And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered: ‘Amen, Amen’, with the lifting up of their hands; and they bowed their heads…”

Teens from the Ethiopian community and other ethnic backgrounds attended.  Adding to the festive atmosphere were tents and tables with prayer phylacteries, children’s books and other items. One tent featured a display about the history of the community. Another featured a display of the dramatic airlifts that brought the Ethiopian Jews to Israel in the 1990s.

The services which began in the morning ended by midday and the fast ended with traditional Ethiopian foods.