05 December 2016
Funded by an Imagine Israel grant, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington joined the University of Maryland (UMD) Hillel to commemorate the Ethiopian Jewish holiday, Sigd. On December 1, Maryland Hillel hosted 50 students from Maryland Hillel, the Ethiopian Student Association at UMD and other on-campus Jewish groups to learn about and embrace the Sigd. The event was led by Pnina Agenyahu, Senior Shlicha (Emissary) for The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, who gave a presentation about Ethiopian culture, discussing the food and ways the Ethiopian community in Israel and Jews in Ethiopia celebrate their annual high holiday.
This year, on November 29, the Ethiopian Jewish holiday, Sigd, comes exactly 50 days after Yom Kippur each year and is modeled after the Book of Nehemia, which discusses the Jews’ return to Israel when they were presented with the Law of Moses, which had been lost during exile. The word Sigd is an Amharic word meaning bowing or worship. In 2008, Israel made Sigd an official national holiday and has been incorporated into the public school curriculum. Since then, the holiday has been primarily celebrated in the hills of Jerusalem.
Traditionally, those who celebrate the holiday do so by ascending to the highest mountaintop to pray, repent, fast, and learn. The bible is read aloud by the qessotch (priest) who then translates the words and expounds upon it. After sunset, the fast ends, and a great and festive meal is made for the community.
As an Imagine Israel educational program, the event’s social impact aspect transcended holiday celebration to bring together the Jewish and Ethiopian communities on campus, giving the community a chance to learn about Ethiopian culture, multiculturalism in the Israeli society and how the young generation of the Ethiopian community in Israel effects social change.