As Ethiopian Jews celebrate Sigd, we’re still fighting for inclusion in Israel

Ethiopian-Jewish women pray in Jerusalem at the Sigd holiday overlooking the Temple Mount, Nov. 7, 2018. (Gali Tibbon/AFP)

RAMLA, Israel (JTA) — This year, American Thanksgiving and the Ethiopian-Israeli Sigd Festival fall just one day apart.

The Sigd Festival is celebrated each year on the Hebrew date of 29 Heshvan, 50 days after Yom Kippur. It is the “festival of supplication,” marked with fasting and purification, including a ceremony to renew the covenant between the people and God and a prayer to return to Jerusalem.

When Ethiopian Israelis gather in celebration and introspection to mark Sigd this year, they will be doing so with an extra level of intensity. Not since Ethiopian Jews began arriving in Israel in large numbers in the early 1980s has my community felt such doubt and anxiety about its prospects for full integration into the Israeli mainstream.

During the span of just six months, Israeli police shot two young Ethiopian Israelis — Yehuda Biadga and Solomon Tekah — under dubious circumstances, adding to the nearly dozen other Ethiopian Israeli victims who have died due to some form of police violence since the 1990s. Many in the community are wondering whether their children are safe on Israel’s streets – and whether the police and other official institutions will ever see us as a full partner in Israeli society.

Ethiopian Jews came to Israel over the past 35 years with prayers and hope to fulfill our birthright after over 2,000 years of yearning. We will not give up nor compromise on our equal rights as citizens.

Together with the support of and partnership with many in both the North American Jewish community and in Israel, we have invested an enormous amount of effort and resources over the past 30 years in the struggle for equal opportunities and for closing the ever-widening socioeconomic and income gaps.

We are a community motivated by and who takes great pride in our rich Ethiopian Jewish history, traditions and culture, as well as a love for our country, and a desire to contribute fully within Israeli society. Today, many Ethiopian Israelis are university graduates and professional leaders.

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