Today is Sigd, a significant religious holiday for Ethiopian Jews based upon the idea of repentance. To many Jews, Sigd is most comparable to Yom Kippur, due to it being a day of reflection, penitence and criticism. Despite these similarities, the major distinction between Yom Kippur and Sigd is the latter’s application of repentance. Sigd places direct scrutiny upon the Jewish community as a whole, as opposed to the self reflection seen on Yom Kippur.
Historically, in Ethiopia, the festival would take place 50 days after Yom Kippur and relied on a collective effort of the whole community to gather at a mountain near Ambober that acted as the site of pilgrimage. As the Jewish community of Ethiopia was dispersed across different villages, the members of the furthest village from the mountain would walk to the next village, be welcomed by its inhabitants, walk together to the next village and so on until they reached the mountain together. Once they reached their destination, everyone would take a rock of varying sizes to ascend up the mountain with on their heads; the size of the rock chosen represented how much repenting that person felt was necessary to do, essentially, the bigger the rock, the bigger the repentance. A large focus of the holiday would be placed on the want to have it take place ‘next year in Jerusalem.’ An average Sigd for an Ethiopian-Israeli today may entail having a day off school/work [with it recently being recognised as an Israeli national holiday] and having a collectively reflective day and family meal. Community leaders meet and discuss relevant issues that have been present over the previous year, with this years festival being tied into the memory of 18 year old Ethiopian-Israeli, Solomon Tekah, who was fatally shot by an off-duty police officer in a racist attack that sparked mass protests.
The concept of a collective reflection and accountability is a beautiful and important aspect of Sigd that we must take inspiration from. The word ‘Sigd’ itself is rooted in the word ‘tzkida’, which means yearning; Sigd is a time to yearn to be better. It’s a time to look at the people around you and demand of them to be their best selves, to hold one’s own community to account over social issues, to ensure positive dialogue within a community and between various communities. It is relevant to ask yourself, how would this communal reflection look in the current UK Jewry? In a time in which we are as religiously and politically polarised as ever, how can we take steps to improve our impact on the world when there are so many visions of how that could manifest. I don’t have the answers, in fact I think it would be incredibly difficult to have this discourse. However, it is something that is vital to our future as a cohesive peoplehood. Instead of having Jews pitted against each other on an array of issues worldwide, a genuine, collective yearning for the betterment of our society can help ensure that we focus our energy to help the Jewish people thrive, whilst being allies to those in our world who need us to better ourselves and one other. – Benjy Goldstone, Boger.