Sigd, Beta Israel Jewish Ethiopian Holiday,
Celebrated at Bet Am Shalom

Left to right:  Habte Awalom, Guitar; Westchester Senior Shlicha Shachar :Liran-Hanan; Bet Am Shalom Rabbi Lester Bronstein

By Stephen E. Lipken


Israel Action Committee (IAC) of Five Synagogues of White Plains, in conjunction with Jewish Agency for Israel’s (JAFI) Shlicha Shachar Liran Hanan and Shinshinim; UJA Federation of New York and Westchester Jewish Council (WJC) presented “Sigd,” an ancient Jewish holiday observed for centuries by the Beta Israel (Jewish Ethiopian) community, at Bet Am Shalom Synagogue, White Plains, on Tuesday, November 29th.  Approximately 90 people attended.


Guest Speaker was Sigal Kanotopsky, JAFI Northeast Regional Director.  Also featured was Kosher Ethiopian food, plus Ethiopian popular music by guitarist Habte Awalom. 


“Sigd is part of the Jewish people,” Bet Am Shalom Rabbi Lester Bronstein stated.  Referring to the Ethiopian immigration airlifts to Israel, Bronstein remarked, “Those events changed Israel for the better. You will see Black people walking up and down [Israeli] streets, white people, brown people…It’s a miracle.  It is a paradox, celebration and contemplation. Sigd means to prostrate, to bow down.”


“A week ago, we celebrated Sigd on the 29th of Cheshvan, 50 days after Yom Kippur, a day of prayer and yearning for Zion,” Kanotopsky said.  “Jews have been in Ethiopia for 2,000 years, leaving Israel after the destruction of the First Temple.  We look to the sky and say, ‘Shimla, Shimla’ (stork), watching the storks migrate north to Israel. There are approximately 7,500 Ethiopian Jews left in Gondar and Addis Ababa.  Some had converted to Christianity, but they want to go back to Judaism, under the Law of Return.  Last year 3,000 Jews were approved to immigrate.”


Referring to Israeli religious customs, Kanotopsky noted that her mother was shocked to find food being kept warm on Shabbat. “My mother eats cold food on Shabbat,” Kanotopsky stressed.


Kanotopsky was asked whether she faced discrimination in Israel. “I was a soldier in the Israeli army, wanting to become a Communications Officer.  ‘Listen, many soldiers have tried,’” the interviewer averred.  “Choose something else,” he said.  Kanotopsky added that her son in the Third Grade was called names, due to the fact he was Ethiopian.


“Let us stay on the same side of the table, to grow up in a healthy society,” Kanotopsky concluded.