Blacks and Whites in Israel

Blacks and Whites in Israel

Last Thursday Israel’s Ethiopian community celebrated the festival of Sigd, on Cheshvan 29. The Sigd adds a communal aspect to the personal self-reckoning of Yom Kippur.

Every Sigd the entire community re-declares its covenant with God. In Ethiopia the villagers would set out on a journey, sometimes of several days, towards the mountain on which the ceremony would take place. 

On the morning of the Festival, the Kessim, priests of the clan, would lead the community to the mountaintop, holding a Sefer Torah. The ceremony would include a prayer for the safety of Jerusalem, and a desire to be there the following year (“Next Year in Jerusalem”).

In recognition of The Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, the community ascends the mountain, and hears the story told. In a re-presentation of the Biblical episode, the community then confesses its sins, blows on trumpets, and again expresses its desire to reach Jerusalem. At the end of the day they march down the mountain in song and dance to the village, and, like good Jews, feast together.

I have been working with new immigrants, including Ethiopians, for nearly a decade. As a teenager volunteering in the local club, I remember being encouraged to change these Ethiopian immigrants’ names and birth dates. I found myself patronizing their home-schooling traditions, and looking down on their parents.

I was young…

Later on I came across the results of this approach when working with the children of these olim. These kids were living their lives disconnected not only from their roots, but from their parents too. They had no knowledge of where they had come from, nor even an understanding of their parents themselves. 

We had taught them to deny their Ethiopian identity. 

It is only in the past few years that we have begun to see this same generation begin to re-embrace their roots and identity. It was their pressure and pride that led to the Knesset finally recognizing Sigd as an national festival – in 2008, some thirty years after the community’s arrival in Israel. 

Ester Rada is a talented musician who talks here of her journey “back to herself”. 

Ashato Alamo, a visual artist, travels around the country with his Ethiopian “The suitcase”, teaching the younger generation about their roots.

These films were specially-made by Bet Avi Chai’s media magazine

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