Sigd Festival on Path to Becoming National Holiday
The Ethiopian spiritual festival Sigd was one step closer Wednesday to becoming a national religious holiday in Israel after legislation presented by MK Uri Ariel (Ichud Leumi-Mafdal) received initial approval from the Knesset plenum. The motion, which was supported by MKs from Shas, Meretz, Labor and Likud, calls for the Prime Minister’s Office to take over responsibility for organizing the annual Jerusalem-based ceremony and for the Education Ministry to dedicate part of the curriculum to learning about the festival.
Additionally, employees will be entitled to choose whether to observe the day by not working, similar to certain other national holidays such as Jerusalem Day. Taking place 50 days after Yom Kippur on the 29th of Heshvan, Sigd is traditionally marked by members of the Ethiopian community in a religious ceremony on Jerusalem’s Haas Promenade. Kessim lead the people in a series of prayers in the Ethiopian Jewish language of Gez, calling for a Jewish return to Jerusalem and individuals are urged to repent for any wrongdoings in the past year.
Traditionally, those who observe the ancient festival spend the day fasting, but in recent years the Jerusalem event has become a showcase for Ethiopian Jewish food, culture and other customs, with members of the community being bused in from across the country. “Ariel believes that this festival should be recognized by the entire nation,” commented a spokesman for the MK. “We all know that the situation for Ethiopian immigrants is not easy, and he believes that this is one way to help improve their image and recognition within Israeli society.”
“This is a significant step by the country in recognizing the spiritual contribution of the Ethiopian community to Israeli society,” commented Avi Masfin, spokesman of the Israel Association of Ethiopian Jews, which organized a petition during last year’s Sigd festival and has been actively working with the religious authorities and establishment to recognize it.
“The Sigd festival is a unique Ethiopian Jewish tradition that has been passed down through generations and has helped us throughout the centuries to keep up with Jewish traditions and continue believing in our right to make aliya.” He also said that Ethiopian immigrants had managed to keep up the Sigd tradition even after moving to Israel. ‘Sigd is another religious and social contribution by the Ethiopian community to the nation,” said Masfin.
The legislation will now pass to the Knesset Committee for Labor, Welfare and Health for its official readings.