Today’s blog post was written by Madeline Black, a Yahel Social Change Fellow living, learning and volunteering for 9 months in the Ramat Eliyahu neighborhood of Rizhon LeZion.
In Ramat Eliyahu, the neighborhood of Rishon Lezion where I am living this year, there is a large population of Ethiopian immigrants. One of my favorite parts of living here has been getting to know Ethiopian culture. For instance, my host mother, Tsahaye, makes traditional Injera, a teff flour bread served with various lentils, meats, and vegetables, and Buna, the Ethiopian coffee served in a special ceremony. In our learning sessions, we met the Case, the spiritual leader of the Jewish community in Ethiopia and now in Israel, and other activists and social workers who have told us about Ethiopian culture and the challenges that new immigrants and the children of immigrants face in Israel.
Madeline, furthest to the right, with Yahel Fellows Leah, Ariana and Amelia at Sigd celebration
Most Israelis are unfamiliar with Ethiopian culture, despite its beauty and delicious food. Aspects of the religious culture are different from the Jewish culture many are familiar with. Instead of a Torah Scroll, Ethiopian Jews have a Torah Book written in Amharic, and instead of a Rabbi, there is a Case. If I didn’t live in this neighborhood, I would likely be unaware of the unique parts of Ethiopian culture.
Set of cups for Buna, the Ethiopian coffee served in a special ceremony
This year, I was lucky enough to attend four Sigd celebrations. In Ethiopia, Jews observe Sigd to mourn being away from Jerusalem. It is a Fast day, and communities climb a local hill and read Torah. Here in Israel, there is a huge celebration at the Haas Promenade, overlooking Jerusalem. This Sigd celebration was the last of the four celebrations that I attended.
The large Sigd celebration at the Haas Promenade, overlooking Jerusalem
In the days leading up to Sigd on November 16th, there were several Sigd parties in Rishon LeZion. The municipality hosted a large celebration with Injera, Buna, and Ethiopian performing artists in downtown Rishon LeZion. Itamar Elementary School, here in Ramat Eliyahu, hosted a Sigd festival as well. There were performances by the students, many of whom wore their traditional Ethiopian dresses. Parents came to watch and, as the grand finale, there was a performance by Café Shahor Hazak, (Strong Black Coffee) an Ethiopian- Israeli music duo that is popular all over Israel. The third celebration was at the Matnas (community center) in Ramat Eliyahu. Here, there were women from the community serving Buna, and more performances.
Café Shahor Hazak performing at the Itamar School Sigd festival
While it was interesting to go to Jerusalem and see the Ethiopian Jewish population from outside Rishon LeZion, the festivals here in Rishon were notable because of the way in which they celebrated Ethiopian culture. At the school and the Matnas especially, the events encouraged the younger generations of the community to embrace and be proud of their heritage. As a foreigner in this community, I got to see Ethiopian baskets and Buna sets and learn about the culture of many of the students with whom I work in the neighborhood. These celebrations were a great place for members of the community who were unfamiliar with Ethiopian culture to learn. As the year has continued and I've spent more time with my Ethiopian host family and neighbors I have enjoyed being welcomed into this community and being able to experience its rich culture.