Local | Religion & Jewish Life

Israeli teen brings Jewish Ethiopian holiday of Sigd to Tucson

Wearing a traditional Ethiopian dress and shawl, Leah Avuno displays a tunic that would be worn by a Kes, an Ethiopian spiritual leader. Avuno, who immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia as a toddler, is spending a year in Tucson as a volunteer. (David J. Del Grande/AJP)

Leah Avuno, one of Tucson’s two Shinshinim (teen ambassadors from Israel) brought more than just her abundant youthful energy when she came to Tucson — she also brought the rich culture of her Ethiopian heritage.

This year, the Tucson Jewish community will join Avuno in celebrating the Jewish Ethiopian holiday of Sigd, which takes place 50 days after Yom Kippur, similar to Shavuot, which is celebrated 50 days after Passover. In conjunction with the Weintraub Israel Center, three Tucson synagogues will each hold Sigd celebrations featuring special food, a coffee ceremony, blessings, games, music and dancing. Tucson Hebrew High students will also celebrate Sigd with Avuno.

“The meaning of the holiday is all about renewing the connection you have with God,” says Avuno. “Sigd is actually the translation for worship. Worship God, worship friendship, everyone worshipping all the beautiful life we have.”

Avuno was 2 when her family made aliyah, so she doesn’t remember celebrating the holiday in Ethiopia.

“All I know is from stories I’ve heard since I was little,” she says. “What I do remember is the celebration of Sigd in Jerusalem every year, in any weather and in any security situation. We always celebrated; we never gave up on Sigd.

“In Ethiopia, people walked several days to reach the highest mountain in the region, in white clothes, following the kesim, the spiritual leaders of the community, who carried the Torah in their hands. During the day everyone fasted and at the end of the ceremony there was a big celebration with traditional food and traditional dances,” she says. As part of the Sigd tradition, the kesim would carry colorful umbrellas.

“Today in Israel we celebrate it in Armon HaNatziv, a neighborhood in Jerusalem, and hundreds of people come,” says Avuno. “It is actually a national holiday in Israel [the Knesset enacted the Sigd Law in 2008] and we all celebrate it, not just the Ethiopian community.”

This is the second year Avuno is celebrating Sigd away from home.

“Last year I was at the March of the Living in Poland and to be honest, it’s a little bit hard to celebrate without dabo (the Ethiopian challah) and the buna ceremony (Ethiopian coffee), but the community here in Tucson is so amazing that I’m sure this Sigd will be equally successful as in Israel.”

Guests are encouraged to wear white, symbolizing purity, to the Sigd celebrations.

Congregation Chaverim’s Sigd celebration will be held Sunday, Nov. 20, from 4-5:30 p.m.  For more information, call 320-1015.

Congregation Anshei Israel will hold its Sigd celebration on Tuesday, Nov. 22, beginning at 6 p.m. RSVP to Michelle at 745-5550, ext. 25.

Temple Emanu-El will celebrate Sigd on Tuesday, Nov. 29, from 6-8 p.m. For more information, call 327-4501.