Archive photo: IDF (Zahal) Spokesperson
Hundreds gathered in Jerusalem to pay tribute to the flourishing Ethiopian community in Israel and celebrate the holiday Sigd
Date: 12/05/2011, 7:40 PM Author: Tammy Habteyes
As I walked into Ussishkin Hall, a sign reading “באים מאהבה”, or “With love” welcomed me to the ceremony. The crowd ranged from Peruvian four-year-olds to senior Ethiopian Rabbis. Students, Knesset members and Ethiopian officials were also among the hundreds who gathered for the celebration at Jerusalem’s International Convention Centre on Sunday, November 28th, both to celebrate the holiday Sigd and to celebrate the Ethiopian community.
Sigd is a special holiday symbolizing the acceptance of the Torah. Among the guests of honor was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“We’re so different now,” told a chairperson at the Representatives of Ethiopian Jewish Community Organizations, or E-Good, as they call themselves. “When we first got here, we didn’t know how to function in the Israeli community. Our parents and grandparents came to Israel for religious freedom, they came to see Jerusalem and what they got was a modernized version of the Holy Land,” she explains. “But today, Ethiopians have proved themselves to the public. We’re doctors, lawyers, government workers, news anchors and IDF (Zahal) officers. But most importantly, we still try to help the community.”
The celebration began with a prayer by a senior Rabbi, followed by traditional Ethiopian dancing and singing. After several speeches by members of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and the Ministry of Education, the Prime Minister was introduced.
“We have recently gotten the green light to bring all Jews in Ethiopia to Israel,” he said, the crowd responding with cheers. “We’re now better equipped to help Ethiopian Jews settle in with a budget of 300 million shekels [Israeli currency] that we’ll be able to invest in the Ethiopian community. When I look around this room, I see the will and motivation to succeed. I see members of the community everywhere including the IDF (Zahal), education, the arts and politics. New generation Ethiopians have opened a page rich with Ethiopian culture and the ability to be successful in whatever they may pursue here in Israel.”
“Never stop dreaming”
As Prime Minister Netanyahu got off the stage, E-Good honored his speech and presence with a gift. As he exited, the room turned dark. A picture of a young girl was screened on the stage. It was an IDF (Zahal) officer named Devorah Itzhak. “I am an officer in the IDF (Zahal) in the Education and Youth Corps,” her voiceover could be heard saying. “I had my difficulties growing up. Like most Ethiopian youth, I had to help my parents with the language barrier and cultural differences, of course, all of these leading to financial hardships. I never gave up, however, I knew that Israel was now my country and I had to protect it and give as much as I could. I am an Ethiopian, I am an Israeli citizen, I am a Jew, but most of all I am a soldier.”
As the picture of officer Itzhak in her uniform slowly dimmed, the young officer came on stage and gave a speech in a firm and confident tone. She concluded by reminding young people to believe in themselves because “you don’t know where your dream ends and reality begins. So never stop dreaming.”
As an Ethiopian Jew, I understood the difficulties officer Itzhak spoke about. I was moved to see how much people outside of the Ethiopian community have given to the community in order to watch it surpass these difficulties. “We’re in Jerusalem, celebrating the Sigd, a true dream come true,” said Eliezer Zendburg, chairman of the E-Good organization.
The event closed with an Ethiopian band playing cultural Jewish songs such as “Ose Shalom” with customary Ethiopian instruments. Finally, a prayer was said for Gilad Shalit, an IDF (Zahal) soldier kidnapped by terrorists just before the Second Lebanon War.
“In every holiday and celebration, we will always think of you. Come home soon,” they said.