The Jewish month of Cheshvan is traditionally known as “Mar Cheshvan”, the “Bitter Cheshvan”, because it has been bereft of Jewish special occasions. This is no longer so. The Ethiopian Jewish holiday of Sigd falls on the 29 th of Cheshvan. Sigd is a holiday that affirms the age-old Ethiopian Jewish aspiration to return to Jerusalem. On Sigd, after a morning of fasting and prayer reminiscent of Yom Kippur, the Ethiopian Jews would ascend a mountain and pray for the return to Jerusalem. In our generation, many Ethiopian Jews actually fulfilled this dream, often at great personal sacrifice, and the Sigd holiday today is celebrated on the Haas Promenade facing the Old City of Jerusalem.
The return of the Ethiopian Jewish community to its land and its people is one of the most moving manifestation s of the “return of the exiles” (kibbutz galuyot) that is taking place in our times. I happened to be studying in Israel during Operation Solomon.
It was unbelievable – 14,000 Jews from another time and culture arrived over the weekend. Everyone had a place to stay, and they were engulfed in an outpouring of care and support. It seemed truly miraculous.
The reconnection of the Ethiopian community, presumably members of the Biblical tribe of Dan, with the “mainstream” Jewish community after 2500 years of isolation is one of the most dramatic stories that speaks to the strength of the global Jewish bond, and highlights one of the great successes of the Zionist movement and the State of Israel. From a human interest perspective, it is heartwarming; from a historical perspective, it is fascinating; from a spiritual perspective, it is inspiring, and from a halachic perspective and a social perspective, it is both challenging and wondrous.
In 2008, Sigd was recognized as an official Israeli holiday. Some Ethiopian leaders would like to see it observed in the broader Jewish community. It certainly would be worthwhile to let young Jews around the world learn more about Sigd, and thereby to learn more about the Ethiopian Jewish community, about Jewish interconnectedness, and about the wondrous ingathering of the exiles taking place in Israel in our times.
Toward that end, JETS is offering free access to its short video clip entitled “Half Brothers, Half Strangers” to help you teach about the Ethiopian aliyah in your classes around the holiday of Sigd that falls this year on November 18th . You can view a trailer here. For access to the full clip, send us a request through our contact form. The background music for the clip is Masa Le’eretz Yisrael (“The Journey to the Land of Israel”) by Shlomo Gronich, which is also a very good educational resource. You can find a clip of the song here, and a clip with the lyrics in Hebrew and English here.
I believe that your students will find the JETS clip enriching. It will hopefully connect them more strongly to Israeli life and culture, and give them a better appreciation of the Zionist enterprise. It will certainly make their month of Cheshvan a bit sweeter.