The evening celebrations of Sig’d at the Jerusalem International Convention Center (Binyanei HaUma) in Jerusalem on November 16th, reflected the presence of the Ethiopian community in Israel as well as their integration into Israeli culture. As one of the few faranji (Ethiopian term for foreigners) present, Midnight East made only one cultural faux pas –utterly failing to recognize three stars from the popular Israeli television show “Kokhav Nolad” (a version of Pop Idol).
The evening of songs, speeches and personal stories clearly demonstrated that the Ethiopian community has become an integral part of Israeli life, in the universities, the military, on stage and even in the government. Just as “Kokhav Nolad” and the Mimuna belong to the body of knowledge that every Israeli somehow “knows” without being taught, Midnight East hopes that the holiday of Sig’d, the traditions, music, stories and history of the Ethiopian Jews will also become an integral part of Israeli culture.
Israela Asago, Shimon and Liron from Kokhav Nolad, along with Netzantet Mekonen, opened the evening with a medley of Israeli songs, accompanied by a wonderful chorus of children. Minister of Culture and Sport, Limor Livnat, expressed her commitment to preserving the cultural traditions of Jews who have come to Israel from different countries and announcing the appointment of Fasil Lagasa, one of the founders of the Ethiopian broadcasting station to the Council for Culture and Arts. This is the first such appointment, one that Livnat plans to follow with more.
Comedian Mareta Baruch entertained the audience, saying that every Israeli pilot she meets claims to have participated in Operation Moses or Operation Solomon. Community leader Roni Akela emphasized the desire of the Ethiopian Jews to come to Israel in order to be full and active members of Israeli society in all its aspects and called for greater representation of the Ethiopian community in Israeli government. A short scene from the play “Teret Teret” introduced a welcome sense of Ethiopian folklore to the evening.
This year, the Kessim, the spiritual leaders of the Ethiopian Israeli community decided to dedicate the day to the welfare and release of Gilad Shalit. In the evening’s ceremony, a prayer for Gilad’s safe return was offered by Maneta, who sang “Shir HaMa’a lot” (from Psalms) accompanied by Zvika Hezekias in a dance solo.
Another emotional moment arrived when Mulluseo Mulah, who arrived in Israel from Ethiopia just ten days previously, received an Israeli ID card from Amos Hermon, Chair of the Education Committee of the Jewish Agency. Short films were screened throughout the evening, showing different aspects of the community through personal stories. Lt. Col. Biche, a squadron commander severely injured in the second Lebanon war, came onto the stage and affirmed his pride in being a member of the Ethiopian Israeli community and a soldier in the Nachal corps in the IDF.
Erez, a runner and sound technician who does not let blindness impede him in any way, spoke to the audience, saying, “I can’t see you but I can feel you. I feel the warmth and the hope and the wishes. I will do everything in my power to fulfill the dream and stand on the winner’s platform at the Olympics. Erez placed 5th in the Beijing games and is hoping for a gold medal in London. The rap group “Strong Black Coffee” more than lives up to its name, with an energy and lyrics that can wake up the world. The evening came to a close with everyone singing the Israeli national anthem: Hatikvah (hope).
Image credit: Elizur Reuveni