Hundreds of American Jews participated in “Sigd: A Virtual Celebration of Jewish Unity,” an event on Wednesday organized by the Jewish Agency for Israel that raised awareness for Ethiopian Jewish culture and the diversity of the global Jewish people.

The holiday the Ethiopian Jewish community has observed for centuries is held 50 days after Yom Kippur. It centers on the idea of accepting the Torah, and yearning for Israel and the temple.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog offered introductory greetings at the virtual celebration, which featured a discussion with guest speaker Rabbi Sharon Shalom, who immigrated to Israel alone from Ethiopia in 1982 and now teaches at Ono Academic College, while also serving as the rabbinic leader of the “Kedoshei Yisrael” community in Kiryat Gat.

Shalom’s talk covered the origins of the holiday and its significance to the community and to him personally.

“I remember my grandfather used to open the Bible, and sit with us and tell us how the prophets promised to us that one day we will be in Jerusalem—that God gathers all the Jews from around the world and will bring them to Jerusalem. We were told that this city is made entirely of gold, and when you open a faucet, instead of water, milk and honey come running out. This is a promise to a nation that spent 2,000 years in exile. Finally, we’re here today,” he said.

“Today, so many discussions are black and white. We want to put people in a box; are you Sephardi or Ashkenazi? Religious or Secular? Orthodox or Reform? Ethiopian Jews bring something very unique to the Jewish World. The Sigd prayer focuses on communal repentance and redemption, it’s about solidarity. Joy flows from that solidarity,” he added. “Ethiopian Jews act as a bridge towards other Jews.”

Sigal Kanotopsky (left)and Rabbi Sharon Shalom participated in a virtual event on the holiday of Sigd on Nov. 3, 2021. Credit: Courtesy of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The discussion with Shalom was moderated by the Jewish Agency’s regional director to the Northeast, Sigal Kanotopsky, a well-known Ethiopian Israeli leader who immigrated to Israel with her family 39 years ago through Sudan. Ethiopian Israeli singer and songwriter Aviva Desa performed three songs during the event and Ethiopian shlichim (Israeli emissaries) from around the world shared their personal Sigd stories.

“Sigd is much more than an Ethiopian holiday,” said Kanotopsky. “It belongs on the Hebrew calendar, just like any other Jewish holiday. In particular, this holiday marks an important occasion to spread a message of Jewish unity. Jewish communities around the world grow closer by learning about each other’s unique customs and cultures.”

Herzog stated that “it is an opportunity to honor an extraordinary community and the extraordinary courage of the Jews who set out by foot from Ethiopia for thousands of miles on a dangerous journey all the way to Jerusalem—to remember the untold story of those who perished along the way, and to recognize the important contributions of the Ethiopian Jewish community to the State of Israel and to the Jewish people at-large.”

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