Sigd Holiday Event Fosters Inclusion for Ramat Eshkol's Ethiopian Community
By Alexandra Menter
On the evening of November 30th, 2016, the Mosaic: Lod Multicultural Center hosted an event marking the Ethiopian Jewish community’s holiday; the Sigd. Rather than an academic presentation on the holiday’s significance or history, Mosaic invited Ethiopian social justice activist Asaffe to share his own personal Aliyah story, and discuss his activism within the Ethiopian Israeli community. The structure of the event was inspired by an Israeli activist who travels the globe recruiting representatives from a variety of communities to share personal stories with visiting groups, spreading cultural awareness and engagement.
The community center staff laid out an array of food and drinks for the attendees and placed comfortable couches and squishy armchairs in a circle, providing a warm and inviting energy. The rows of chairs were lined up behind the couches, indicating that the staff anticipated considerable turn out. Upwards of thirty people arrived, some belonging to the local Jewish population in Ramat Eshkol and others visiting from neighboring towns.
Asaffe began by discussing the significance of the Sigd in Ethiopian culture. The Sigd holiday is specific to the Ethiopian Jewish community. In Hebrew, “Sigd” translates to “worship,” and falls 50 days after Yom Kippur. It is a day dedicated to praying for a return to a Jerusalem, and collectively asking for God’s forgiveness.
Asaffe reiterated the painful details of his experience as an Ethiopian Jewish person in Israel and his triumphant Aliyah. Prior to arriving in Israel, Asaffe was imprisoned by the Ethiopian government on accusations of his collaboration with the Israeli regime. He remained in a cell for fourteen days and an additional year and a half later. By the time he was released, his family had already moved to Israel. Asaffe followed in 1988, joined his family, and continues to live in Ramat Eshkol. He started an organization dedicated to assisting Ethiopian Jews in their Aliyah processes.
The audience was attentive to Asaffe’s every word. They laughed with his jokes, smiled when he recounted moments of resilience, and asked numerous questions about his life and work. Asaffe thanked the audience and received a warm applause. Some of the attendees stayed after to discuss the event and story with great enthusiasm. Later on, as people pulled on their coats, stacked up the chairs, and wrapped the remaining food to go, the warm and excited energy that Asaffe’s story had inspired remained.
The occasion not only provided an important opportunity for cultural exchange, but exemplified the small steps toward social change occurring daily in Ramat Eshkol. Each time the community comes together to share, it builds a more inclusive Ramat Eshkol and—by extension—a more inclusive and just Israel.