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Beth Israel Synagogue - בית ישראל

A Conservative Jewish Congregation – Roanoke, Virginia

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Who, What, WhenDid you know?

By Rabbi Fabian Werbin

The Jewish calendar is a treasure that has many jewels. We all enjoy our holidays, repent during the fast days, and try to remember what the next event in the calendar is in order to get ready for it.

Have you ever heard of a celebration called Sigd? I bet you haven’t…

Sigd is an Amharic (not Aramaic, but Amharic, the Ethiopian language) word meaning “prostration” or “worship.” Sigd is the commonly used name for a holiday celebrated by the Ethiopian Jewish community on the 29th of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan. This date is exactly 50 days after Yom Kippur and, according to Ethiopian Jewish tradition, is also the date that G-d first revealed himself to Moses. Previously, Sigd was celebrated on the 29th of Kislev, but after a calendar reform it was moved to its present day, 50 days after Yom Kippur.

Traditionally on Sigd, members of the Ethiopian Jewish community would fast for a day, during which they would meet in the morning and walk together to the highest point on a mountain. The “Kessim,” spiritual leaders of the community, would carry the “Orit,” the Ethiopian Torah, which is written in the ancient Geez language and comprised of the Five Books of Moses, the Prophetic writings, and other writings such as Song of Songs and Psalms. The Kessim recited parts of the Orit, including the Book of Nehemiah. On that day, members of the community recited Psalms and remembered the Torah, its traditions, and their desire to return to Jerusalem. In the afternoon, they would descend back to the village and break their fast, dance and rejoice in a sort of seder reminiscent of Passover.

The holiday symbolizes the Jewish covenant in receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai in addition to the reacceptance of the Torah that was led by Ezra the Scribe before the construction of the Second Temple (as stated in the Book of Nehemiah). Its date is analogous to the 50 days which are counted between Passover and Shavuot when the Torah was given on Mount Sinai.

The Ethiopian community in Israel has been celebrating the holiday by holding a mass ceremony on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, topped with a procession to the Western Wall. In July 2008, the Knesset added Sigd to the list of State holidays. The law states that in addition to being a state holiday, Sigd would also be marked in a special assembly organized by the Ministries of Education, Science, Culture and Sports.

The law also establishes that if 29th of Cheshvan is Shabbat, the celebration is anticipated and takes place on Thursday, the 27th. In 2010, Israeli President Shimon Peres led the annual Sigd celebration with a ceremony at his residence in Jerusalem.

David ben Gurion

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Did You Know?

By Rabbi Fabian Werbin

David Ben Gurion was born with the name David Grüen on October 16, 1886, in Plonsk, Poland.

In 1910 in a magazine called “Achdut” (Unity), he publicized an article for the first time under his new name.

Where does his name come from? Maybe the following story from the Talmud (Taanit 19B) can help us to answer this question.

The entire Jewish nation was in Jerusalem for the festival, but there was no water to drink. Nakdimon approached a Roman nobleman who lived there.

“Lend me twelve wells of water for the use of the people,” he told him, “and I will replace it with another twelve wells of water and if not, I will pay you twelve bars of silver.”

The nobleman agreed, and they set a date by which time the water must be returned. That day came, and still no rain had fallen. That morning the nobleman sent a messenger to Nakdimon ben Gurion.

Send me my water or my silver”, he commanded.  “I still have time. The whole day is still mine”, Nakdimon ben Gurion sent back.

At noontime, he again sent a messenger. “Give me my water or my money,” he ordered.

“I still have time,” Nakdimon ben Gurion sent back.

In the late afternoon, he again sent a messenger.  “Give me my water or my money,” he ordered. “I still have time,” Nakdimon ben Gurion sent back.

The nobleman had a good laugh on hearing this. “Could it be,” he chuckled, “that the whole year no rain falls, and now enough rain to fill my wells will fall?” He went to the local bathhouse joyously rubbing his hands at the thought of twelve bars of silver.

At the same time, Nakdimon ben Gurion entered the Beis HaMikdash anxiously. He wrapped himself in his tallis and stood in prayer.

“Ribono shel Olam, You know that neither for my honor, nor the honor of my father’s house did I do this. I did it all for Your honor alone, that the Jewish people may have water for the festival.”

Immediately, the skies filled with clouds and a great rain fell, until the twelve wells overflowed with water. The nobleman hurriedly left the bathhouse, bumping into Nakdimon ben Gurion as he left the Beis HaMikdash.

“Give me my change for the additional water you received”,  Nakdimon ben Gurion said to the nobleman.
“I know that Hashem turned the world over only for you”, the nobleman answered, “but it won’t help you. You still owe me those twelve bars of silver, because the rain fell after sunset, and it’s all mine.”

Hearing this, Nakdimon ben Gurion quickly returned to the Beis HaMikdash, rewrapped himself in his tallis and stood in prayer.

“Ribono shel Olam, let them know that we are Your friends in this world,” he begged.

The clouds then scattered, and the sun shone.

“Were it not for that sun shining through”,  the nobleman groaned, “that money would have been mine”.

“Buni was his real name and not Nakdimon,” the rabbis taught. “He was called Nakdimon since the sun pierced ["nikdera"] through the clouds for him.

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