The “Hanukkah Shabbat” with Professor William Miles in the garden city of Port Harcourt was the peak of the first leg of the tour to the southern region in the country. History was also made after two synagogues in South-Eastern Nigeria received two mezuzot from Rabbi Wayne Franklin, which were installed on the doorpost of Ohr Torah, and Har Shalom synagogues respectively. How pleasing to see people yearning to touch and kiss the newly installed mezuzah- especially for Har Shalom who only joined Judaism couple of months ago and with no mezuzah anywhere around the synagogue.
So however, it was already dawn by the time we returned to Port Harcourt from Aba, ahead of the movement to Abuja the following day. That evening was the last Hanukkah eve on which the eight candles will be lighted. I remember saying the prayers with Menasheh Ben Ebenezer, while we lighted all eight candles on separate menorah inside Aaron Kakodesh Synagogue- the first place to be visited when the Franklins arrive by next week.
Welcoming Rabbi Wayne Franklin and Mrs. Franklin To The Garden City Of Port Harcourt
There’s one man who deserves a lot of gratitude for his selfless input towards the success of the tour in Rivers State. Not only did I view him as the grand coordinator of the Jewish communities around Port Harcourt- he was also the navigator-man who took over the responsibility of driving the American visitors throughout their stay in Southern Nigeria. Moshe Ben Avraham is the Rosh of Aaron Hakodesh synagogue located in Rumualogwu area of Port Harcourt. The interior structural design of the Knesset built by him speaks a lot of his love for beautification for shapes and buildings as well. On 22nd October, 2017, an award of honor presented to him by Rivers State Jewish Youth Association in recognition of his support/outstanding contribution is no doubt a testament of his efforts in promoting Judaism throughout Southern Nigeria and beyond.
Staring out through the window of the office of the Rosh on Sunday, 16th December, 2018, there were quite a number of people patiently waiting to welcome the Franklins to the Knesset. Even though the news of a delayed arrival kept most people frustrated- some youths managed to create some form of distractions to keep their spirit going. They sat around a table, singing melodies of Hebrew songs with their sweet voices piercing the silence of the environment.
But finally at last, after about seven hours from the initial estimated arrival time- the traveling team made it into the Knesset compound. They looked so tired and completely exhausted, and said only a few words of thanks and appreciation to the people for waiting several hours to welcome them to Port Harcourt. No doubt, it has been a long day for everyone, therefore maximum rest would be needed ahead of the Bar Mitzvah of Shimshon and Tovia, as well as the scheduled seminar for both males and females at Yisharim Synagogue the following morning.
Looking Back Briefly To The History Of The Growth Of Judaism In Southern Nigeria
The Judaism movement started many years ago even before the coming of Rabbi Howard Gorin to Nigeria. I assume that most of the earlier contacts made with Israel would have been the source of the religion into Western Africa. My parents started keeping “the Shabbat” since around 1975, although majority of the movement back then were purely messianic. But most importantly, some of the ancient traditions and customs found in the Igbo-dominated regions have a striking resemblance with what’s found in the Torah. This is the reason many historians don’t dispute the fact about the lineage connection between the descendants of Igbo tribes and the Israeli Jews.
Prior to the visit of Rabbi Howard Gorin to Nigeria, Meir Elokim and today’s Aaron Hakodesh were already practicing full Judaism. The late elder Eliyahu Ben Asher (founder of Meir Elokim Synagogue) and Moshe Ben Avraham seem to be the earliest pioneer of Judaism. While Yisharim Synagogue and a few others in Rivers State were rather fully messianic as at that time. However today, we acknowledge Rabbi Howard Gorin for his selfless contribution to propel the Judaism network in Nigeria because his teachings and donations of several Jewish materials changed the tides of events. Magen Avraham Synagogue is also notably one of the earliest orthodox messianic Shabbat, until they were converted into full Judaism.
Magen Avraham Synagogue Rebuilds After A Devastating Flooding
This small Jewish congregation was the last visited on Day Eleven of the “Franklin-Miles Tour to Jewish Nigeria 5779.” We were all looking exhausted haven been on the road since morning, but Moshe Ben Avraham pleaded that the visit to this Knesset should mark the end of the tour to Rivers State. By the time we arrived in the evening, the members all came out to welcome the Franklins and Professor Miles, and ushered us into the new building which is still under construction.
The Rosh, Yedidyah Ben El, standing in front of the congregation began with a couple of Hebrew songs before saying few words to warmly welcome the American visitors to the synagogue. From his speech, we learned that their former Knesset building has been under frequent flooding disaster for some years now. But the last flooding was so devastating so they had to abandon the site to move to this new location, and started construction in August 2018.
Professor William Miles and Rabbi Wayne Franklin were given the opportunities to address the congregation. After the speech, the professor handed over a Jewish calendar to the Rosh. The Rabbi said prayers on behalf of the Knesset and assured them that the days of flooding are certainly over, and he was looking forward to hearing news about the progress with the new construction.
Before we left, some group photos were taken to remember this maiden visit of the Franklins and Miles to Magen Avraham synagogue. One of the most remarkable moment was when a group of choristers sang the Israeli National Anthem (HaTikvah) with a little girl in front of the group. Indeed, it was such a memorable visit.
Stopping To Say “Hello” At Beth Yerushalayim Orthodox Community
Beth Yerushalayim Orthodox community is located in Igirita area of Rivers State, just at the outskirt of the capital, Port Harcourt. Before proceeding to Magen Avraham Synagogue, we briefly stopped at this small Jewish congregation to see how they were doing. The Rosh and the wife, and a handful of youths welcomed Rabbi Franklin, Mrs. Anne Franklin, Professor Miles and the rest of the tour group to the Knesset.
This was the fourth synagogue visited out of the five in the day’s schedule. We didn’t have to spend much time there or sit down to be entertained by any group because we arrived there at about 4pm. According to the calendar, the tour continues in Lagos (Western Nigeria) the following day. So it was important to wrap up this 2nd visit to Port Harcourt, and get some good hours of sleep ahead of the trip the next day. We received kola in the form of bottles of wine from the Rosh, took some group photos as usual, and then continued on our way to Magen Avraham Synagogue new site.
Entertained With Songs, Cheers and Dancing At Kehilat Melek Israel
B’nei Tzedek was the first synagogue visited on that day, before heading to Kehilat Melek Israel. The area popularly known as “Gambia” is located at the heart of the garden city. Approaching the entrance into the Knesset compound, a hoisted Israeli flag is the first indication that the surrounding is a Jewish community.
Education has also become a paramount thing for most of the growing synagogues in Rivers State. The Emunat Hashem School is situated within the perimeter of the synagogue- with classes ranging from nursery and primary education, as well as the Junior Secondary school level. But although we didn’t meet the pupils during the visit because of the holidays, we learned that the registered students comprise of both Jews and non-jews.
With a few of the members present on that Tuesday, Moshe Ben Avraham, introduced the Rosh, the Hebrew teacher and the chazzan to the visitors. Professor William Miles gave a brief speech, and then the Rabbi had few words of encouragement to say, before handing over some gifts to the Rosh, Y’hoshua Ben Shaul. Once again, it was time for group photos to remember the visit which is viewed by many as a progressive factor that will continue to strengthen the Judaism network in Nigeria.
Then it was time for us to go, but unknown to us the peak event of the visit is yet to be displayed. The visitors were ushered into another separate building and entertained with beautiful Hebrew melodies with creative rhythms. Their loud voices, the cheers and excitement- all happening simultaneously. Soon it broke into a dancing tempo, with a number of dancers in front of the audience. It was such a magnificent display.
I was later told by someone that Kehilat Melek Israel is known as center of lovers of songs and dancing. And that attending service at the Knesset on a typical Shabbat will leave a memorable experience that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
The Visit To B’nei Tzadek Synagogue
We had began the day with an inter-faith conference held at Yitzhak Rabin International School- a meeting organized by Pinchas. After the meeting, the tour to a few selected synagogues in Port Harcourt got underway that afternoon beginning with B’nei Tzadek Synagogue.
At B’nei Tzadek, we were greeted by a few number of brothers and sisters, and spent about 20 minutes in their midst. We were introduced to the following people in the Knesset:
- Yoseph Ben Avraham, the Rosh
- Melek Ben David, Elder of the synagogue
- Immanuel Ben Yaakov, President of the synagogue.
As we were leaving, the Rosh presented a locally-made candle for Havdalah to Rabbi Wayne Franklin.
We wish to appreciate all the synagogues for their warm reception to the visiting Rabbi and his traveling crew. As well as Moshe Ben Avraham, Rosh of Aaron Hakodesh Knesset, for leading the way and taking us to everywhere- therefore making the overall tour a successful outing. Finally, will also like to thank Elder Zuriel Ben Avraham for making his vehicle available for the national coordinator and his team to move around the garden city of Port Harcourt. Your input indeed was absolutely commendable!