By Ester Asia
(Note: Mehlella, also Amata Saww or Sigd, is one of the unique holidays of the Beta Israel community, and is celebrated on the 29th of the Hebrew month of Marcheshvan. Since 2008, it has been an official Israeli state holiday.
The author, Esther Asia, lives in Federation’s Partnership2Gether region in Israel’s Central Galilee. Shown here with her husband Mesganaw and three children, Matan, Yehunatan and daughter Shirel, her sons are alumni of the Partnership’s Israeli Camper and Teen Leadership Programs.)
Sigd is an important holiday within the Ethiopian Jewish community. It celebrates the dedication of renewing the alliance between God and the people. Back in Ethiopia, it was a fasting day where the Jews would climb the highest mountain, pray all day long, then come down and celebrate with lots of food, dancing, and joy.
In Israel, the main Sigd celebration takes place in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood in Jerusalem. All Ethiopian-Israelis (called the Beta Israel community) go to Jerusalem to pray together with the Kessim (religious leaders). In recent years, the holiday has become more widely celebrated, introducing the holiday and the entire culture of Ethiopian Jewry to the community at large. This helps Ethiopian children relate more to their traditions and empowers them to connect with their roots and their identity.
For several years now, my family and I have been participating in celebrating the holiday in schools. My children help me to prepare traditional foods, which we bring to the school, and then I tell my personal Aliyah story. My kids tell me how empowered they feel during this time, and how introducing their culture and tradition to their friends makes them feel part of the group and not different from everyone else. In addition, our house is always open, enabling contact with people from the broader community. My older sons take part in the Partnership2Gether Teen Leadership Program, where they get to meet peers from various places and communities and broaden their horizons; from here, the sky is the limit. As a mother, I am happy to see my children being exposed to other traditions and enjoy cultural diversity, into which they can bring their own tradition while connecting with others.
Two communities. One family. Learn more about how Federation’s Israel & Overseas Department is bringing Detroiters and Israelis closer together.