By: Abraham Ben Abraham

One of the most remarkable things about this year’s Hanukkah was the celebration of Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) on the sixth day of the feast. On that day – which was the only Shabbat throughout the eight days celebration – the seventh Hanukkah candle was lit shortly after the Shabbat. The day being the 30th day of the month of Kislev, and the Torah reading taken from the Parashat Miketz. It was absolutely a great period for the visit to Jewish Nigeria – traveling eastward across the Atlantic Ocean to spend time with brother and sisters.

The Beginning of “Franklin-Miles Tour To Jewish Nigeria 5779”

During the visit of Professor William Miles to Avishai Synagogue Nkpor, he did promised a repeat visit the following year with his Rabbi. It was therefore not surprising when the news broke about the maiden visit of Rabbi Wayne Franklin and Mrs. Anne to Africa. For me, it was such an honor to be directly involved in organizing the 17 days tour across 3 different regions in the country.

Arriving Southern Nigeria on the eve of Day One; I was certainly not the only person traveling towards the capital of the state. Ephraim Ben David (the Jewish Tallit and Kippa tailor) got to Yisharim Synagogue two hours ahead of me- so together we said the Maariv prayers with a handful of students before retiring to bed.

Few minutes before midnight, the Turkish Airline carrying Professor William touched down in Abuja. And with a connecting flight the following day he landed in Port Harcourt International Airport. Moshe Ben Avraham (the Rosh of Aaron Hakodesh Knesset), Ithiel Ben Moshe, and Yoseph Ben Gamilier were all on ground at the airport to welcome the American professor to the Garden city of Port Harcourt.

Presentation Of Hanukkah Gifts To Synagogues In Port Harcourt

A group of people were waiting at the synagogue to welcome the Hanukkah visitor to Rivers State. After the brief introduction and exchange of greetings, it was time for the morning prayers. At the end of the Shacharis, the Roshim and representative of some of the synagogues in town gathered for a brief meeting with the professor.

The Franklin-Miles Tour to Jewish Nigeria was flagged off by the presentation of Hanukkah gifts on behalf of Rabbi Wayne Franklin who was scheduled to arrive the country at a later date. Just as the tradition of the Chanukah celebration demands- indeed how thoughtful for the Rabbi to extend his warm concern by sending gifts to the Jewish congregation in the state ahead of his visit.

Elder Akaniwo receiving Hanukkah gifts on behalf of Yisharim Synagogue

The gifts handed out after Professor William formally introduced himself in front of the people comprised of the following:

  • Hanukkah candle stands (Menorah)
  • Boxes of candle, and
  • Dreidel for the kids to play with

The gifts were presented to the following synagogues, each receiving at least ten menoras and about four boxes of candles:

  • Aaron Hakodesh Knesset
  • Yisharim Synagogue
  • Meir Elokim Jewish Congregation
  • B’net Zdedek
  • Kehilah Melek Yisrael

Everyone expressed their gratitude to the professor, and then left in a hurry to meet up with the preparation of the Shabbat. However, it was interesting to notice a group of youth already playing the dreidel as we drove out through the gate of the synagogue. The dreidel is a four-sided spinning top bearing the Hebrew letters nun, gimel, hei, and shin, which together form the acronym for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, which means “a great miracle happened there.”

Ushering In The Shabbat At Aaron Hakodesh Knesset

Just like how King of Glory Yahudim Assembly Is Now Melek Kivot Synagogue– the Ark of Hashem Jewish Congregation was changed to Aaron Hakodesh Knesset. This is in line with the recent tradition of replacing all English names of Jewish congregation to purely Hebrew meanings.

By the time we arrived at the Knesset, the sixth Hanukkah candle was already lighted, so we joined the rest of the members for the Shabbat Erev prayers. The whole surrounding was illuminated by several numbers of electric bulbs which I couldn’t count. But most importantly, the service was indeed wonderful and the chazzanim who were all dressed in black suits made everything so colorful and attractive.

Mikvah Built by Rosh Moshe Ben Avraham

One of the cantors who led the prayers is the younger son of Rosh Moshe Ben Avraham. The Aaron Hakodesh is notably the tallest in building structure of all the synagogues in Port Harcourt. And the Mikvah (place of ritual bath and praying) which is currently under construction- will certainly become the biggest in town upon its completion. The names of the three chazzanim are as follows:

  • Shmuel Ben Tzuriel (Chief Charzzan),
  • Ithiel Ben Moshe, and
  • Kadmiel Ben Imanuel

After eating the challah (bread) prepared by Arielah Bat Nathan (the vice president of Rivers State Jewish Youth Association), the venue for the Shabbat morning prayers was announced by the Rosh.

Professor William Miles Prays At Yisharim Synagogue

Menasheh Ben Ebenezer was leading the prayers by the time we arrived at the Knesset. The building was filled up so a number of people had to stay outside during this combined service. Part of the audience inside was students of Mekor Chayim Academy, a Hebrew-owned school in Port Harcourt. From what I learned, this secondary school came into existence through the joint efforts of some Jewish elders in Rivers State.

Abraham Ben Abraham with students of Mekor Chayim Academy

However, since there was no Sefar Torah the service ended about an hour before midday. Then we proceeded to the Kiddush table to take the challah (bread) and wine. The Rosh, elder Akaniwo Ben Mathtyahu, used a moment to introduce the visiting professor to the congregation who expressed their delight to have the American in their midst. Speaking briefly in front of the audience, Professor William Miles formally introduced himself and stated that his mission was to prepare the way ahead for the arrival of Rabbi Wayne Franklin and wife to Port Harcourt.

Before proceeding to the next location, the wife of the Rosh and other women served a delicious traditional meal to everyone. The mood was such a cheerful one, and everyone looked forward to the return of the full traveling crew to the Knesset in a week time for the Bar Mitzvah of one of the sons of the Rosh.

Mincha, Maariv, and Havdalah At Meir Elokim Jewish Congregation

Meir Elokim Knesset is known as the mother of all synagogues in Rivers State. Most of all the other synagogues in Port Harcourt today can be traced to have originated from this synagogue directly or indirectly. This is the reason whenever we acknowledge Rabbi Gorin for his selfless contribution to propel the Judaism Network in Nigeria– we remember the Sefar Torah he donated to this legendary Knesset.

Eben Cohen, Dike Moshe and Others in Meir Elokim Synagogue

Professor William Miles was given the honor of the first Aliyah when the Sefar Torah was brought out during the Mincha service. Moshe Ben Avraham and Nathan (the vice president of the synagogue) were given the second and third Aliyah respectively. Shortly after Mincha, the president and chief chazzan of the synagogue, Shmuel Tikvat Chukwuma, welcomed the American professor and assured him of absolute safety and security around the garden city of Port Harcourt throughout the duration of the tour in Rivers State.

Before the Maariv session, just after eating the challah- the representatives of some other synagogues were called upon to receive their own Hanukkah gifts. So just like the other synagogues, the menorah, boxes of candles, and the dreidel were presented to the following synagogues by Professor William Miles:

  • Bnei Avraham Jewish Congregation
  • Magen Avraham Synagogue
  • Knesset Bnei Avraham
  • Shalom Torah

The Mincha prayer was earlier conducted by Michal Moshe Dike, the assistant chazzan of Meir Elokim Synagogue. He is also the current president of the Rivers State Jewish Youth Association.

Shmuel, Professor Miles, Ithiel, Eben Cohen

Then finally, the long day gradually came to an end with a spectacular Havdalah service to usher in the new week. It was also the right time to light up the seventh Hanukkah candle. The entire surrounding became engulfed with cheers and happiness and dancing in circles around the Knesset. This memorable Shabbat was concluded by taking of photographs, and video recording to remember the maiden visit of Professor William Miles to Meir Elokim synagogue. According to him, this will be the ever first experience of observing a single Shabbat day in three different synagogues.