The Ethiopian Jewish Community

Beta Israel, the Ethiopian Jewish community, has existed for at least fifteen centuries. Scholars believe this group of Jews arrived in Ethiopia sometime between the first and sixth centuries C.E. Beta Israel view themselves as direct descendants of King Solomon and the biblical Tribe of Dan.

Since members of Beta Israel historically lived far away from most other Jews, they did not celebrate Hanukkah, Tu B’Shevat, or Purim—holidays that do not appear in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). Instead, the community developed their own customs and traditions over time. One example is Sigd, a holiday that has been adopted as an official national holiday in Israel, just as many traditions and practices from other parts of the world have been woven into the rich fabric that makes up the Jewish homeland.

Related: Learn About Sigd

On Sigd, the community would climb a tall mountain while holding colorful umbrellas, which were commonly used in Ethiopia to offer shade to esteemed leaders and are a sign of honor for the Torah scroll. Everyone, including children, would hear readings from the Torah about forgiveness, unity, and returning to the Land of Israel. After a half-day of fasting, the community would enjoy a large feast in celebration of its heritage and its dreams. Today, Sigd is an opportunity to give thanks. Like Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, Sigd is observed with fasting and prayer, followed by a joyful breaking of the fast.

Today, about 170,000 Beta Israel live in Israel. Each year, thousands gather at the promenade overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem to celebrate Sigd, which was declared an official Israeli holiday in 2008.

To learn more about this vibrant, important part of the Jewish diaspora, check out the sections below:


Picture Books

Pumpkin Pie for Sigd book cover

Pumpkin Pie For Sigd
by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

Recommended for ages 6-8

When Maddie moves from the United States to Israel, there are many things she misses about home -- especially around Thanksgiving. But soon she makes friends with other olim, immigrants to Israel, including her friend Orly from Ethiopia. When Orly shares the Ethiopian holiday of Sigd with Maddie, they come up with a perfect melting-pot recipe!

Yosef's Dream book cover

Yosef's Dream
by Sylvia Rouss

Recommended for ages 8 and up

When Yosef was a child in Ethiopia, he had a strange dream, one that didn’t make sense until later when he -- along with thousands of others in his community -- was flown to Israel as part of Operation Solomon. Sometimes our dreams tell us more than we know.

Yuvi’s Candy Tree book cover

Yuvi’s Candy Tree
by Lesley Simpson

Recommended for ages 8 and up

Based on a true story, this book tells of Yuvi’s extraordinary journey from Ethiopia to Israel.

Other Picture Books

According to Ethiopian Jewish tradition, the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon after hearing of his great wisdom. Her beauty and ancient love match with King Solomon are the stuff of legends. Their son, Menelik, was raised in Ethiopia and educated by Temple priests and nobles that accompanied the Queen upon her return to her country. Many of today’s Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jewry) claim ancestry from Menelik and those high-ranking members of Solomon’s court.

King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba book cover

King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba
by Blu Greenberg and Linda Tarry

Recommended for ages 8 and up

When the Queen of Sheba comes to Jerusalem to test the King’s celebrated wisdom, he answers each of her questions while sharing the wonders of his world.

Related: Listen to an Ethiopian Folk Tale, A Whisker of Magic

Middle Grade Books

Too Far From Home book cover

Too Far From Home
by Naomi Shmuel

When her mom gets a big promotion, Meskerem must leave her beloved home and start school in a new town far away. As if that’s not bad enough, now she’s the only kid of color in the entire fifth grade! Will she ever fit in and make friends?

The Storyteller's Beads book cover

The Storyteller's Beads
by Jane Kurtz

This is a beautifully written story about two Ethiopian girls from very different backgrounds: Rahel is blind and from the Beta-Israel (Jewish) community; Sahay is an orphan and from the Kemant (Christian) community. The girls overcome their prejudices and learn to love and trust each other during their dangerous and difficult journey across Ethiopia and the Sudan.

Suggested Reading for Grown-Ups

Drawn from Water book cover

Drawn from Water: An American Poet, an Ethiopian Family, an Israeli Story
by Dina Elenbogen

From Africa to Zion book cover

From Africa to Zion: The Shepherd Boy Who Became Israel’s First Ethiopian-Born Journalist
by Danny Adeno Abebe

Transformations: From Ethiopia to Israel book cover

Transformations: From Ethiopia to Israel
by Photojournalist Ricki Rosen


Learn to Cook Traditional Ethiopian Dishes for Passover via The Nosher

Chef Beejhy Barhany was born in Ethiopia, raised in Israel, and now owns and runs a restaurant in New York City. Learn to make a delicious traditional dish as she also educates viewers about special Ethiopian Passover traditions.

Khalikidan’s Passover Seder via Shalom Sesame

Welcome to a Passover seder with Khalikidan and her family.

Sigd and the Traditions of Ethiopian Jews via My Jewish Learning

Get a brief overview of Sigd with My Jewish Learning.

The Story Behind Yuvi’s Candy Tree


Bake a loaf of delicious honey bread

Try doro wat a traditional Ethiopian stew that families enjoy on Shabbat

Learn an Amharic song for Sigd


Ethiopian Jewish Women via Jewish Women’s Archive
The History of Ethiopian Jewry via My Jewish Learning
The Story Behind Yuvi’s Candy Tree
Why We Chose This Book: Yosef’s Dream


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