The Ethiopian Jewish Holiday of Sigd is More Relevant Than Ever

November 13, 2020

By Rabbi Yonah Berman for The Jewish Forward

In the 1997 Seinfeld episode “The Strike,” George Castanza is embarrassed when his father Frank shamelessly promotes Festivus, a December 23 celebration that Frank created years ago in reaction to the other winter festivals in popular culture. The episode ends with George’s friends and enemies joining together at the Castanza home as Frank leads the family in the made-up traditions of this made-up day, including the performance of feats of strength and the public airing of grievances against one another.

We all observe birthdays, anniversaries and other milestones. Yet many of us would find it strange to incorporate new holidays like Festivus into our calendars. At the same time, there are numerous holidays — known as Purim K’tanim — observed by local Jewish communities around the world with profound and unique histories. They mark days of salvation from enemies and other accomplishments worth celebration and the offering of thanks to God.

And then there is Sigd, a holiday rife with meaning for — and until recently known only by — Ethiopian Jews. Sigd marks 50 days since Yom Kippur, which Ethiopian Jews understand as a day of personal repentance and spiritual striving, and which marks the beginning of a process of communal growth and repair. Sigd then completes that process, not unlike the 50 day period that begins with Passover and culminates with receiving the Torah on Shavuot.

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