Sigd and Thanksgiving Holidays

This week is a special week for holiday observances.
Yesterday, Ethiopian Jews celebrated the holiday of Sigd, which is celebrated 50 days after Yom Kippur.
The Jews in Ethiopia lived in complete isolation from other Jewish communities for many centuries until the recent airlifts of Ethiopians to Israel (last week I mentioned the 35th anniversary of Operation Moses). For this reason, the Ethiopian Jewish community, called the Beta Israel, developed many holidays and celebrations that do not exist in other Jewish communities.
According to, the name Sigd means “prostration” in Ge’ez , an ancient Ethiopian liturgical language, but it is related to the word sged (same meaning) in Aramaic. Sigd is about accepting the Torah and yearning for Israel and the Temple. It is thought to be the date on which God first revealed himself to Moses.
Traditionally, members of the Beta Israel community fast on Sigd, read from their scriptures (which are called the Octateuch, the Five Books of Moses plus Joshua, Judges and Ruth), recite psalms, and pray for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. It is also a time for renewing the Israelite covenant with God. The fast ends mid-day with a feast and dancing. For this reason, though it is connected to Yom Kippur , it shares many resonances with Shavuot .
And, of course, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. A special time for family and friends to come together and to show gratitude for all that we have.
For many, however, these are difficult times. Jewish Family and Child Service (JFCS) just delivered Thanksgiving food boxes to 125 families in our community with the help of some 90 volunteers and the generosity of many community members who donated the food. These families received a turkey, potatoes, stuffing, green beans, cream of mushroom soup, cranberry sauce, oranges, dinner rolls, butter and a pumpkin pie. Sadly, I am sure there are even more who may be in need.
Thank you to the leadership of JFCS for enabling these families to enjoy the holiday. There is even more we can do by joining the Jewish Federation at the Oregon Food Bank on what we call “Doing Tuesday” (December 3) or adopting a family during the upcoming holidays via JFCS. 
During Thanksgiving, we should all stop for a few moments each day and think of all the things we have for which to be grateful. When we do so, we become conscious of how much we really have in our lives and feel enriched. Gratitude is central to affirming all that we are blessed with and all that others do for us; in fact, it is central to a feeling of well-being. As I tell my children, saying “thank you” can form a life-long habit of feeling and being grateful for the important things we have.
Although I shared some a few years ago, here are additional “fun facts” about Thanksgiving:
  • You may know that this uniquely American holiday, so reminiscent of Shabbat, has roots in Jewish text. In 1620, William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth Colony, compared the Pilgrims’ flight from persecution in England to the Jews’ fleeing Pharoah. The Pilgrims recited Psalm 107 from the Hebrew Bible, a song of thanksgiving to God.
  • Only male turkeys “gobble.” Female turkeys “cackle.” So now you can tell the difference the next time you decide to hunt your own turkey.
  • President George H.W. Bush was the first president to officially pardon a turkey in 1989. Some turkeys have lucked out by serving as the grand marshals at the annual Thanksgiving parades at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
  • There are four cities in the United States named Turkey. There are also four called Cranberry and 34 named Plymouth.
  • Apple pie may be America’s favorite, but some 50 million pumpkin pies are eaten on Thanksgiving.
  • Thanksgiving was almost a fast day – not a feast. The early settlers gave thanks by praying and abstaining from food, which is what they planned to do to celebrate their first harvest. When members of the Wampanoag Tribe joined them it turned into a three-day feast.
  • The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade began in 1924 with 400 employees marching in New York City – not with balloons, but live animals from Central Park Zoo.
  • The heaviest turkey on record weighed 86 pounds. Can you imagine how long it would take to cook and what tools you may need to carve it?
In celebration of the holiday, here are three wonderful resources to share with your guests:
First, a beautiful Thanksgiving Seder created 10 years ago by Rabbi Phyllis Sommer.
If you’re looking for “newish Jewish” ways to express your gratitude, check out JewBelong's Thanksgiving Booklet filled with readings and songs that will touch your heart.
Here is a meaningful Thanksgiving Reader by Seth Godin, marketing guru, that includes readings to share at your Thanksgiving table.
Finally, you can play the “ Attitude of Gratitude Thanksgiving Game ” created by Dr. Miriam Heller Stern of the Hebrew Union College School of Education.
This year, let's celebrate Thanksgiving with a mindfulness to how this holiday brings us together to mark our gratitude and deep sense of blessing – for freedom, prosperity and community. And, despite any hardships or challenges you may be experiencing, I hope you will spend the day thinking of all the thankful things in your life. There are many!
Happy Thanksgiving and may you have a wonderful Shabbat.


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