By: Abraham Ben Abraham

Lagos- the largest commercial and industrial town in Nigeria is located in the South Western region of the country with proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of more than 20 million people, it is larger than many countries combined together even though it is just a single state. And in the midst of this densely populated territory, Judaism has been thriving for a good number of years, as against the early speculation that the region is majorly dominated by only the messianic movement.

The Visit to Lagos Prior To The Beginning Of The Tour

My journey into Judaism is barely less than two years now, and have never really visited “Jewish Lagos-” but now am tasked to go there and prepare the way ahead of the Rabbi’s visit. As an emissary, part of my responsibilities was to hold discussion with people in key positions, gauge the overall level of preparedness, and arrange a suitable venue for the proposed male and female seminar.

Shacharis Prayers during Rosh Chodesh Elul 2018

However, making the trip along with Eben Cohen was certainly the best decision I made. As a Hebrew teacher, he is well known and has a long history with most of the Jews in Lagos. After the four days fact-finding mission which included keeping the Shabbat at Adat Yisrael synagogue, we moved back to the east in full confidence. Then it was time to fill up the events and activities for the 17 days movement on the tour calendar and transmit it back to the United States.

Summary Of The Franklin-Miles Tour So Far Before Lagos

The tour was scheduled to be completed in 17 days, comprising of 3 states and Abuja- with 3 Shabbat inclusive. Before the American visitors arrived Lagos on the 19th of December, the following events have already taken place:

After the successful completion of this part of the tour in the company of Rabbi Wayne Franklin, Mrs. Anne Franklin and Professor Miles, Lagos will be the next stop.

Our Lagos Host, Kish Ben Onyia, Rosh of Adat Yisrael Synagogue

There’s a popular saying that leaders are not born but rather are made and forged perfectly to assume the leadership positions. So in situations where a leader is also a great teacher, then perhaps it could be said that such person has both traits- born as a leader and trained as a leader through continuous learning and practicing. For individuals like this, everywhere is virtually a classroom for teaching others and impacting knowledge.

My first encounter with the Rosh was in his home residence in Lekki. We got along very quickly, after a couple of questions were thrown at me- then our discussions covered several subjects like the parashat for that week, Judaism in Nigeria, international relation with Jews in Israel and America, etc. Surprisingly, in such a little amount of time, I have learned more than I could imagine from him. After joining him at the table for launch, then it was time to go straight to the point to discuss about the Franklin-Miles to Jewish Lagos. Then in the evening, since it was on a Friday, we joined the Rosh and his family to the synagogue for the Shabbat Erev. It was certainly my first Shabbat in Lagos as a Jew.

Adat Yisrael Synagogue is located off Ago Bridge in Okota, and separated from Festac by a water-way channel. The Knesset is noted as the first originally built Jewish place of prayer in the entire State. Construction on site began early in 2010, and despite the setback caused following the collapse of the structure during the building process- work continued as planned without further delay. Honestly, it was indeed a miracle that no worker was caught up in the rubble of the collapsed building-it can only be Hashem’s wondrous intervention. However, in the following year, the building was eventually completed with a groundbreaking celebration of Erev Passover on the 18th of April 2011.

Kish and Onyinye

According to Kish, the new Knesset is a gift to Hashem and truly dedicated as a general place of service and worship for all Jews in the state. But something was still missing after so many years of post construction- a guest house. The idea being that as important as how the Erev Shabbat is viewed, the most practical way to uphold this essential mitzvah is to provide an accommodation near the synagogue. This prompted him and his lovely wife, Hadassah marat Onyia, to join efforts together and erect another building inside the compound. The guest house was started around April 24th 2017 and finished in October 2017, with a capacity to house more than forty people. It is therefore easier for members, no matter anywhere they reside in the state to come to the synagogue on Friday evening for prayers, then pass the night comfortably and attend the morning prayers without having to bother about the worrisome traffic coming directly from their homes for the Shabbat.

Goodbye To Port Harcourt As The Final Leg Of The Tour Extends To Lagos

Specifically, the tour of Rivers State was intended to move beyond Abuja and discovering other existing, new, and emerging Jewish synagogues in Southern Nigeria. It was such a successful and historic movement involving over eight Knesset around the garden city. Although we cannot point out the exact number of people we met or the population of the entire Jewish congregation in the state. This is because there are other synagogues located at the outskirt of the town which we could not visit during the short duration of our stay. So perhaps as a future project, series of repeat visits to the region can truly help determine the population estimation of the Jewish brothers and sisters residing there, as well as in other regions around the country.

Excited looking Mrs. Franklin with Women in Yisharim Synagogue, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Southern Nigeria

On Wednesday, 19th of December 2018, Rabbi Wayne Franklin, Mrs. Anne Franklin and Professor Miles left southern Nigeria and landed in Lagos. Kish Ben Onyia was at the domestic airport to welcome the American visitors, who first needed some good rest especially after the rigorous Port Harcourt tour- and now in Western Nigeria to finalize this historic visit- starting with a seminar at the Knesset in Festac.

It was “Happy Birthday” For Professor William Miles At Olam Israel Synagogue

Olam Israel Synagogue is located in Festac, inside the compound of the Rosh who was on a vacation in far away Texas, during the tour to Jewish Lagos. Doctor Nwosu (Hanoach Ben Avraham) as he’s popularly called is one of the founding fathers of Judaism in the state, and has a long history with Kish in practicing the religion many numbers of years ago. I spoke with him from Port Harcourt once and then after series of communication, he was happy to let us use his synagogue as venue for the proposed seminar. There’s no doubt that Olam Yisrael Synagogue stands as a unifying center for majority of the Jews in Lagos State. This is evident from the successful hosting of the last National youth Shabbat last year which brought many Jewish youths in the federation together.

Now again, as it is Lagos’ turn to host another National youth Shabbat;  Olam Israel Synagogue has been given the preference once more to host this event scheduled for the 8th of February, 2019.

On the shortest route To The Seminar Venue at Festac

Looking at the tour calendar, the general seminar for Lagos would take place at Olam Israel Synagogue. It was Day Thirteen of the Tour, and the speakers for the event have all arrived Lagos the previous day. Waking up early on that day, we started making calls to remind the people about the seminar time and venue, and urging them to try to be part of it. As the organizers, it was also important to get to the venue ahead of time to help set up the space for the event. In order to navigate and beat the Lagos traffic, Eben Cohen and I took a canoe ride passing through the waterway channel to get to Olam Israel Synagogue through the shortest possible route.

By the time the speakers arrived at the Knesset that evening, the seminar got underway. After a brief introduction, Rabbi Wayne Franklin was the first speaker and he focused more on the parashat of the week, talking about the encounter between Joseph and his brothers in Egypt. After the brief talk, he gave the room for the audience to contribute to the discussion. Notably, two of the contributors were Shimon Ben Avraham and my cousin, Ikechukwu Amaefula, who was invited by me.

Shmuel Calling Professor Miles to Wish Him Happy Birthday

However, unknown to everyone, we didn’t know it was the professor’s birthday, until he received a video call from his son while he was speaking to the audience. Shmuel was calling from the United States to wish the professor a happy birthday and used the opportunity to say hello to the crowd. Indeed it was a joyful moment as the cheers of “Mazal Tov” engulfed the whole place. For a couple of minutes the seminar was paused to make the birthday moment a memorable one, listening to a happy father talking to his only son on the phone. Nevertheless, before continuing with his seminar topic, Professor William Miles presented a gift to the audience after making an epic joke from one of his birthday stories he recalled back in the Republic of Niger.

Shimon Ben Avraham speaking during the Seminar

Rabbi Wayne Franklin Gives the D’vrei Torah At Adat Yisrael Synagogue

A typical Shabbat morning is usually different in many unique ways from the rest of the weekdays. This is because the mind is focused and tuned into a frequency mood for the worship of Hashem, the Holy One of Israel, Blessed is He. Rising from the bed early that morning, with the synagogue less than a meter away, actually made everything pretty very easy. So from the synagogue guest house, we simply made our way straight into the Knesset to conduct the morning service.

The prayers were conducted by the following Chazzanim:

  1. Nathan Ben Uwaoma (Chief Chazzan of Adat Yisrael Synagogue)
  2. Hezekiah Ben Habakkuk (Chief Chazzan of Tikvat Yisrael Synagogue Abuja)
  3. The Musaf (Additional Prayers after Torah Service) was said by Rosh Kish Ben Onyia

During the Torah service, Rabbi Wayne Franklin and Professor William Miles were honored with the first and second Aliyah to mark their maiden visit to the synagogue. Speaking about breaking new records, I too was honored with the duty of returning the Sefar Torah to the ark. This will be my first time to perform this Mitzvah since joining Judaism. Nothing was as satisfying as carrying the Sefar Torah with members kissing the Sefar Torah as the Torah is being returned back to the ark.

However, prior to that moment, the Sefar Torah was blessed after the 7th Aliyah was completed, and then the Torah was dressed before the HafTarah was read. Then came another interesting moment when the Rosh and Elisha raced towards the front of the bimah- in what appears as a contest for who will bring the pulpit for the Rabbi to speak from. This act of humility displayed by the Rosh truly speaks a lot of his simplicity and leadership by example behavior.

 Listening to his Torah teachings, it was such an enlightening and creative piece of discussion. The story of Joseph again and his re-union with his bothers in Egypt is quite an interesting one. There were many lesson and ideas to take from this parashat portion, and most interestingly how the Rabbi connected the similarity in the reasoning between the HafTarah and the Parashat. Using a plain language, he was able to give the possible reasons why the Rabbis must have paired these readings together.

At The Kiddush Table With Rabbi Wayne Franklin

Throughout the visit to Lagos, and particularly to Adat Yisrael Synagogue, the gathering around the Kiddush table was always spectacular in many ways. The way he recites the prayers, the way he cuts the bread, always full of smiles and willing to speak and teach. In fact till today, even though a couple of weeks have gone since the Rabbi’s visit, he is still being missed at the kiddush table.

Beginning from the Shabbat Erev at Adat Yisrael Synagogue on Day Fifteen of the Tour, he said the prayers for the Kiddush as well as the Brikat Hamazon (Grace after meal) at the end of the meal. And consequently on the Shabbat, how amazing to see him leading the prayers for the first, second, and third Shabbat meal. One of the moments I’ll not forget was when he decided to teach the congregation a song in Hebrew at the Kiddush table. With such a sweet-sounding voice, we all listened to him and repeated the lines of the song.

Kiddush Levanah- The Sanctification of the Moon

After the Maariv prayer headed by chazzan Nathan Ben Uwaoma, the Rosh announced the Kiddush Levanah mitzvah. The ritual for the sanctification of the moon is usually said in the open under the night skies. So we all went outside, staring at the full moon in the star-studded sky, and repeated the series of the prayers from the Siddur.

In the blessing of the moon, we thank Hashem for creating the moon and for the benefit we receive from its light. Some of the lines of the prayers recited is also for the protection of the individual from his/her surrounding enemies, as well as the national protection of the State of Israel.

After this important Jewish ritual, which according to the tradition must be performed outside with the moon visible and not totally covered by the cloud, we preceded back into the synagogue to conclude this spectacular Shabbat with the Havdalah.

Photo Gallery Of The Last Moments!

At last, it was Day Seventeen, the final day of the Franklin-Miles Tour to Jewish Nigeria.

Final Exit Through Lagos!

A popular saying goes this way- anything that has a beginning must have an ending. For me, I didn’t want to really believe it was time to say a final bye until the bus conveying all of us closed in on the Murtala Mohammed International Airport. We alighted in front of the departure and helped with the luggage through the first security checks, up to the airline booking counter- before saying the final bye bye.

Rachel, Peretz, Oriel & Leah

Nevertheless, it’s important to mention the extraordinary input by Kish throughout our stay in Lagos State. He ensured that the movement in terms of transportation around the Lagos metropolis was safely executed in a timely manner to the best of his actions.

Onyinye marat Onyia, the Ima of Adat Yisrael Synagogue, was so caring and welcoming in entertaining the American Jews in her home residence. Even in the synagogue her exceptional motherly role is comparable to none. No wonder they rightly said that he who finds a good wife has indeed found a good pearl.

Photo Credit: Hezekiah- HAPPY BIRTHDAY PROFESSOR-MILES REMEMBRANCE PHOTO

And finally, not forgetting all the wonderful Jews we met in Lagos, the energetic youths and hard-working women, and especially a couple of smiling little children we met both in Olam Israel Synagogue and Adat Yisrael Synagogue- without your support and cooperation, we wouldn’t have achieved such a fulfilling and historic visit to your state.

May Hashem Bless You All!

Shalom!