For Sigd, here is an image from the Jewish Museum London showing Ethiopian Jews airlifted from Addis Ababa to Israel on May 24, 1991, as part of Operation Solomon. This covert operation involved 34 jumbo jets of the Israeli air force, hundreds of soldiers and the evacuation of 14,200 Jews. It was prompted by the worsening political situation in Ethiopia under the government of Mengistu Haile Mariam.
A Jewish community was first established in Ethiopia sometime after the destruction of the first temple in around 587 BCE. The origin of the Ethiopian Jews is unclear though most believe that they are the descendants of King Solomon and Queen Sheba. There are many theories though, some believing they are the lost tribe of Dan, while others believe they are the descendants of Christians who converted to Judaism. Throughout its history, the community has been referred to by numerous names like ‘’Falasha’’ which means ‘’stranger’’ which shows how their Christian neighbours viewed them as strangers in their land and ‘’Beta Israel’’ which literally means ‘’house of Israel’’. This name shows the community’s own deep connection to the Torah and their faith.
The Beta Israel exodus to Israel began in the early 1980s, after a coup in the Ethiopian government led to the death of 2500 Jews, directly followed by Ethiopia forbidding the practice of Judaism and the teaching of Hebrew. This was the start of various operations conducted by Israel to rescue the Beta Israel community.
Sigd is an Ethiopian Jewish festival celebrated 50 days after Yom Kippur. Sigd means “prostration” in Ge’ez, the ancient South Semitic language. Ethiopian Jews would go to a high mountain near Gonder in the north of the country, and pray that their religious commitment would merit them to return to Jerusalem. It is thought to be the date on which God first revealed himself to Moses.
Traditionally, members of the Beta Israel community fast on Sigd, read from their scriptures (which are called the Octateuch, the five books of Moses plus Joshua, Judges and Ruth), recite psalms, and pray for the rebuilding of the Temple. It is also a time for renewing the Israelite covenant with God. The fast ends mid-day with a feast and dancing. For this reason, though it is connected to Yom Kippur, it shares many resonances with Shavuot.
Since 2008, Sigd has been recognized as a state holiday in Israel. In Israel today, it is celebrated for an entire month leading up to the 29th of Cheshvan, and it is an opportunity to raise Ethiopian Jewish visibility and educate Israeli Jews about Beta Israel customs.
Hidden Treasures: Celebrating the documents, photos and artefacts in British archives that tell the story of Jews in Britain