10 Things You Didn’t Know About Ethiopian Jews – Especially for the Sigd Holiday


By The Macks Center for Jewish Education and the Baltimore Shinshinim

1. Most of the Jewish Ethiopian community in Israel made Aliyah in two waves of immigration assisted by the Israeli government: Operation Moses (1984), and Operation Solomon (1991)

2. Today, Israel is home to the largest Jewish Ethiopian community in the world, with 7,000 living in Ashkelon!

3. There are many different opinions about the origin of the Jewish community in Ethiopia. One of them states that the Jews in Ethiopia are the offspring of the tribe of Dan.

4. Every year, the Ethiopian community celebrates the Sigd Holiday – its name means worship and prostration. It symbolizes the Consciousness of surrendering to God, which exists in Ethiopian theology.

5. Sixty Kessim (priests) of the Ethiopian immigrants in Israel are employed by the Ministry of Religious Services. However, a new generation of Orthodox rabbis of Ethiopian origin trained in Israel are gradually taking over.

6. In the first wave of Aliya, Jewish Ethiopians needed to leave Ethiopia quickly. They packed lightly as they were scared to be found by the Ethiopian government. They went to Sudan, in order for the Israeli government to assist their journey to Israel from there. Their journey was long and treacherous, their supplies ran short, and people died of exhaustion and disease, but eventually they made it to Israel!

7. The ceremony of the Sigd holiday takes place at the top of a high mountain, as a symbol of Sinai Mountain. It is entirely performed by the community priests (the Kessim). The preparations for this ceremony used to begin a long time before the holiday. Now, in Israel, the Ethiopian community performs the ceremony at the Kotel!

8. Since the Jewish community in Ethiopia had lost the connection with the different communities around the world before destruction of the second temple, it was not aware of the oral Torah. Therefore, the Ethiopian Jews did not celebrate Hanukkah and other holidays. They managed their lives according to the written Torah.

9. The main language used among Israeli citizens and among the Ethiopian Jews in Israel is Modern Hebrew, however, the majority of the Ethiopian Jewish immigrants continue to speak in Amharic and Tigrinya at home with their family members and friends

10. A youth group arrived in Israel in the 1950s to undergo training in Hebrew education and returned to Ethiopia to educate young Ethiopian Jews in the community there!

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