I was like a kid at a candy shop.
But a modern-day kid. The type that does her research, most likely by watching YouTube videos about some candy unwrapping, and knows EXACTLY what she wants (or at least, the virtual version).
Yea, that was me.
The context? I was at Sigd, a festival celebrated by the Beta Israel community from Ethiopia. As part of a project for the ASF Institute of Jewish Experience, I had recently researched what Sigd is all about. In brief, it’s a day of purity, fasting, and renewal, reconnecting us as a community to Gd. It references the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai and the renewed covenant from the times of Ezra and Nehemia.
But when I came to Sigd, it wasn’t quite like the video. After all, Sigd, in addition to other things, is a community event. And like any community event, it evolves and adapts to the community.
I was looking for a crowd of united people, dressed in white dresses and scarves, before them standing qessim under colorful umbrellas, leading the community in the day’s rituals. In my mind, the crowd was listening attentively, raising their hands to the sky.
And I should note, there was some of that. I found myself in a packed space on the promenade, trying to face the full 180 view of Jerusalem that is very rare in a modern city. (We were at the top of a mountain, after all.) But people weren’t looking at the view. Rather, like in my mind’s eye, they were looking at the podium with the qessim and their beautifully colorful umbrellas. And the Orit was laid before them. Some, indeed, were listening, praying along and lifting their hands to the heavens. And I was intrigued.
But not everyone was present or fully focused on that ceremony. There were those who were more attentive to the qessim and the rituals, and those who were less. Leading up to the main space, I found a more scattered crowd, talking, eating taking pictures. Various organizations and individual initiatives tried to engage with the crowd not focused on the main ceremony. Which is why I say it wasn’t exactly what I had expected or researched.
And still, I felt like a kid in a candy shop.
I had researched this holiday, produced a video on it and gave a fair amount of explanations to friends. And now, I was basically seeing it in live.
But aside from the excitement of witnessing (roughly) what I had read about, I learned something else. Maybe Sigd is not just a Beta Israel community event. At least not in theory. Maybe it is a greater Jewish community event. In its essence, it reconnects us to our Bible and our values as Jews, seeking to get close to Gd and understanding the power of community.
You see, as I was experiencing Sigd, I came to reflect on the concept of the ingathering of exiles – a Jewish concept that we pray and strive for but sometimes forget its intricacies and possible difficulties. In the times of the Temple, everyone would gather in Jerusalem for three major holidays and I’m sure it had its difficulties, whether it be physically fitting everyone in or socially accepting so many diverse people. Now, in today’s Israel, add thousands of miles between communities and a couple of centuries, and realize that physical difficulties are miniscule in the attempt to bring everyone together.
While I can imagine what we saw at Sigd as being a small taste of the pilgrimage we had during the Temple times, I think it has a lot to teach us moving forward. More than a Beta Israel ingathering, it was or should be a greater Jewish ingathering, a chance to learn the intricacies of our varying Jewish communities living within close proximity of one another for the first time in two thousand years.
A way to overcome our difficulties with being separated from each other for so long is by trying to understand where the other is coming from – why they do what they do. It should connect back to what we know, for after all, we come from a shared tradition. In the case of Sigd, we learn a way of interpreting and living a Jewish experience as it reminds us of the Biblical covenant ceremonies.
So, let’s try to learn from each other. One community’s traditions may enlighten another about shared stories and values they may have forgotten. Let’s watch videos, read, ask questions, because the more you know, the better the experience, of a particular event or of the greater Jewish experience. We’re living a shared story with those around us. It’s time to connect and by learning, enrich that shared experience for us all.