We’re talking today of the Queen Of Sheba & Dr. Shula Mola, cooking Dabo bread, the amazing Tsion Café & Riddles. Settle in.
Jerusalem, 24 November 2003. GALI TIBBON/AFP via Getty Images.
The Queen of Sheba heard of the famed King Solomon’s supposed wisdom, and she thought, hmmm? Maybe that’s true, but perhaps it’s not?
In a bid to find out for herself, an excellent response in itself, the Queen travelled to Jerusalem with a great train of camels, bearing spices, gold, and precious stones, to meet Solomon. Armed with a plan to test him by posing riddles, which sounds a little strange but quite good fun.
For the single folks out there, perhaps you may want to consider this tactic prior to any upcoming first dates? Although, it’s may be better to leave the precious stones until the second date. But I digress.
In the midrashic account of the event, one of the riddles the Queen asked was: “What are the seven that issue and nine that enter, the two that offer drink, and the one that drinks?”
Solomon answered: “The seven that issue are the seven days of menstrual impurity. The nine that enter are the nine months of pregnancy. The two that offer drink are the breasts, and the child is the one who drinks” (Midrash Proverbs [Buber ed.] 1).
You gotta love both the question and the answer — neither is so obvious.
Another midrash tells us that due to “Solomon’s wisdom and the miracles that God had performed in his time, she proclaimed: “Praised be the Lord your God,” and with this declaration she expressed her desire to join the people of Israel. The Rabbis compare the Queen of Sheba with Jethro and with Rahab, two important Gentiles who sought to adhere to Israel.” (read more about this over as our friend’s Jewish Women’s Archive.)
To add even more drama to this great little meet-cute: not only did the Queen convert out of her own volition, but there was also a sexual liaison between her and Solomon, which produced a son. Birthed in her home and raised in her new faith.
And this, my friends, is how we have the Beta Israel of Ethiopia.
Now 160,000 people strong, with the vast majority living in Israel, a remarkable 155,300 of that population as recorded in 2019. Around 12,000 members of the community remain in Ethiopia, while 1000 or so live in the USA.
The Beta Israel (meaning House of Israel) claims descent from Menilek I, traditionally understood as that very son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. Menilek of course being the Aramaic word for riddles. I kid, I kid.
Celebrated on the 29th of Cheshvan – 50 days after Yom Kippur – Sigd had become a traditional Ethiopian Jewish holiday celebrated exclusively within the country. Although it had been celebrated continuously for centuries by most of the Diaspora, before fading into obscurity, leaving only Ethiopian Jews keeping the tradition alive.
Due to the influx of Ethiopians to Israel, most famously during Operation Moses in 1984 and Operation Solomon in 1991, Sigd became a national holiday in Israel in 2008.
Former Israeli President Reuven Rivlin greets the Ethiopian elders at the Sigd celebration in Jerusalem on Nov. 7, 2018. Kobi Gideon/GPO.
Dr. Shula Mola is an Israeli civil and human rights activist, educator, and 2021-2022 postdoctoral fellow at the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University. Having moved from Ethiopia to Israel in 1984, Mola explains in her article in the Times of Israel, “once in Israel, Sigd quickly found a place in our community’s life.”
Still, Mola had reservations to the initial idea of attempting to make Sigd a national holiday during her tenure as chairwoman of the Association of Ethiopian Jews.
“I worried that we were trying too hard to ask Israeli society to accept our culture. I preferred to fight against racism and promote equality in education and employment.” Ms. Mola writes, “over time, I realized that there is no full integration without recognition, no equality without belonging. The fight for Sigd was an integral part of our struggle.”
And what exactly is Sigd? Mola explains it best: “the heart of Sigd is in the renewal of the covenants between a person and G-d, a person and the community, and a person and society. The day’s customs reflect and strengthen these bonds — charity, togetherness, singing, dancing, and communal meals.” Amen.
Read Dr. Shula Mola’s terrific article in full in The Times of Israel: Sigd is not just a holiday for Ethiopian Jews. It means Israel sees us. Shula Mola received her doctorate from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, with a dissertation focusing on the impact of technology on activist immigrants. Dr. Mola is a founding member and key activist of Mothers on Guard – a group of mothers who protest police brutality against youth of Ethiopian origin. She also serves on the boards and councils of the Ministry of Justice’s National Anti-Racism Coordinator’s Office, the New Israel Fund, Gesher Multicultural Film Fund, and Jerusalem Culture Unlimited. And less exciting for her, but we would be remiss to not mention: Dr. Mola is also officially one of New Jew Kitchen’s heroes.
Melkam Sigd! Happy Sigd! !חג סיגד שמח
And now for a recipe. Only one here today, the post got a little bit longer than usual. What can I say? I regret nothing. I will be featuring more Ethiopian recipes soon. Watch this space!
Via our great friends at Lilith, the BRILLIANT Beejhy Barhany owner of the awesome Ethiopian restaurant in New York City, Tsion Café, shares her recipe for Dabo Ethiopian Bread.
Dabo means wheat bread and the full name is yemarina yewotet dabo, which means honey and milk bread. Some say it reminds them of the land of milk and honey, and so Dabo Bread is sometimes also called the Promised Land Bread.
Photo courtesy of lilith.org.
Dabo Ethiopian Bread
- 1 pack dry yeast
- 4 cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup sugar or honey
- 2 cup warm water
- 1 egg
- 2 tsp oil
- 1 tbsp salt
1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Put aside and let it sit for 30 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, and salt).
3. Add yeast, oil, and egg to dry ingredients and mix.
4. Add water gradually to the mixture. Begin to knead the dough until it becomes soft and elastic.
5. Apply oil to your hands and make a sphere out of your dough.
6. Place dough into a large bowl and cover with a towel. Let rise for one hour.
7. Still in the bowl, continue to knead the dough to get rid of any excess air.
8. Transfer dough onto baking pan.
9. Let dough sit and rise for 20 minutes covered.
10. Heat oven to 250° F and let bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown.
11. Let Dabo cool down and enjoy!