Presented by: Eliada Chukwuma Ozoemena
Event: Leadership Course organized by “Jewish Africa”
Venue: Ohr Torah Synagogue, Aba, Abia State Nigeria
Date: 27th-29th July, 2018.
My teachers, I may neither be a very good speaker nor teacher, but permit me to discuss, with you, this bulging issue in our quest to be Jews and Jewish, ‘African Jews; the conflicts in creating her own identity poses a great challenge to her existence.’
I am so happy that we have grown winds to fly so high, thereby having the opportunity to have a forum like this. I also opine that in every place or nation, there is a Jew, Hebrew or an Israeli, as the case may be. Studying the admonitions of Hashem to the people of Israel in the Holy Scripture against idolatry we should know that the end consequences of disobedience to Him would be exile, thus; “See, I set before you today life and good, death, and evil. For I command you today to love the Hashem your Elohim, to walk in obedience to Him, and to keep His commands, decrees and laws; then you will have life and increase, and the Hashem your Elohim will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But, if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.” -Deuteronomy 30:15-18
Furthermore, a careful student of Torah will never relegate to the backgrounds the specific punishments to be bestowed on Hashem’s people in regard to idolatry when he stated in Deuteronomy 28:64;
“Then Hashem will scatter you among all the nations, from one end of the Earth to the other, and there you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known.”
To this effect, we must have known before now that we perhaps found ourselves in this part of the world because of gross violations of Hashem’s laws. Having this in mind, we must make a thorough search in our descent to this geographical location.
The above forms the foundation for this discussion. If not for sins we would have not been here. If not for sins we would have not been finding it difficult to say who we are. One may not be confused or find it difficult why I speak in this manner. We must not also, for any reason negate the untiring efforts of those who love us and tirelessly guide, teach and attract us to Torah and chalakhot. They also donate Jewish materials and books to us. Their efforts must be rewarded by Hashem.
My brothers and sisters, among one million and one humiliated Africans in search of true Jewish acceptance and reorganization is he who stands with you now. My tears drop!
Most of us were, at one time or another, so keen and desperate to be reorganized as Jews and even got certifications from some rabbis, who would even give their acceptance to us as my personal Jewish teachers in a written note. But the story always becomes sour along the line. Our experiences later became long stories.
This brings me to Conversion or Return to Judaism. They may not sound odd in this context because, our struggles to be reorganized in the main stream Judaism can never be channeled and effected on, without either of the two. The former, being the most talked of, poses a very big gully between us and the white Jews. As we must have known, conversion to Judaism, at first, sees the prospective candidate towards being convinced within himself to be Jewish thereby adhering strictly to the requirements needed. These requirements, chief of which are complete acceptance of the thirteen principles of faith in Judaism as made popular by Maimonides, and strict observance of Shabbat/Festivals, also requires one to remain a Jew eternally. It may sound so simple. Yes, it is, if a candidate vows within himself to be Jewish, if his mother is not certified to be a Jewess, because automatic Jewishness comes from maternal linage. According to one source below, conversion has requirements; “Steps Towards Conversion: Learning/Study
Conversion candidates are urged to learn as much as possible about Jewish religion and culture, to seek out a variety of Jewish experiences, and to talk to a rabbi early in the process. Many people start by enrolling in Introduction to Judaism or Judaism 101 classes, which are frequently offered at synagogues, Jewish community centers and other Jewish institutions.” _(www.myjewishlearning.com).
Furthermore, we know that a conversion candidate’s first and most enduring test stands his strong desire to become Jewish, even in the turbulent ocean of dissuasion from being one, as we may learn from Ruth’s insistence on following Naomi, as recorded in the book of Ruth. Ruth 1; (16)_”But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your G-d my G-d. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May Hashem do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.””
The above, even makes one a Jew before he is extended a hand for kosher conversion as Maimonides would have it in this question and answer, “if a conversion is performed, not by a rabbi but by observant laymen, is the proselyte halakhically Jew, at least post facto?’ ‘A proselyte whose motivations were never considered or who was never informed about the commandments and punishment for transgressing them, but was circumcised and immersed (in a mikvah) in the presence of three (observant) laymen… he is nevertheless a halakhically valid convert”
To this effect Rabbi Reuven Katz ZI”L, Rabbinic Judge and Chief Rabbi Petach Tikvah gave his own answer in a related question below, “what, how and much should a convert learn prior to his conversion?’ ‘He should study for one month the foundations of Judaism and basic Jewish Laws.”
My teacher, we can see that we have been subjected to face a different Jewish conversion processes in this modern era.
The other edge of the double bladed sword is Return to Judaism. The law of Return and the law of Conversion to Judaism have slight differences. A people could be subjected to either of them, depending to the assessment of their claim, link, indigenousness or desire. None of the two is easy in this modern Jewry. This poses a very difficult task to our immediate community as Jews. Because, the outstanding requirement of having a three man judge constituted of practicing Jews for the supervision of a prospective convert to Judaism and finally lead such to the mikvah is no more accepted at random, many organized bodies find it very difficult to be accepted as Jews even after such kosher exercises. The modern rabbinate places grievous tags to conversion into Judaism nowadays.
To this effect, we must devise proper means of giving ourselves what we really need as people who wish to dedicate our lives and services to Hashem, since rejection, abuse, insults, segregation and racism insist of having an upper hand in our affairs with the white Jews.
Having touched one part of this discussion, my teachers, let’s come home and discuss the most important aspect of establishing our identity. This second half of this work, two hard nuts to crack, stands as tall as two solid mountains, which if we ever receive the grace from Hashem, to pull down, automatically give us an edge over others.
One part of the tedious task is our attitudes and approaches in our immediate local Jewish communities. We may not see this as an issue that has to be urgently visited in one of my secret books, “Minyan in Igbo Jews? No!” ,I poured what would not be dried up in a hurry. Although, I stand to be corrected, the level of autocracy, hatred, antagonism, pomposity, egotism and deceit in our various communities call for divine intervention. Being a founding member of about three local Jewish synagogues credit me with the knowledge of firsthand deficiencies we have in building up good Jewish communities that will stand the test of time, here on Earth with the direct radiance from Heaven. I may sound so odd at this juncture, we must learn to insert a square peg in a square hole, and not the otherwise. Our past experiences have shown that most leaders of our local synagogues take laws into their hands while managing what seem to be their private businesses. They would teach chalakhot, but fail to adhere to them. They make carryovers from their former white garment churches, claiming that they have arrived at Judaism. My people, let me stop here. We mustn’t be carried away by our past ugly experiences from those self acclaimed chief priests, chief rabbis, rabbis, chazzans, gabbais ,and synagogue administrators. Our claims as the real Hebrews hold no water, identifying that we virtually lost all values, especially in written forms, that would name us as descendants of Yaakov, therefore, we can never say that those who have been preserving them are foreigners in Israel, even if they are, they did not allow the Barton to slip off. We only have to be wise enough to bring those artifacts they preserved, add them to ours, which are sound actions, to build a stronger Nation of Hashem. The road is still far!
The more solid mountain remains our ethnicity claims as super Jews, Hebrew or Israelites. This is what stands to tear us apart, plunge us into an unending ocean of ethnic enmity. This phenomenon, a cankerworm, which has eaten deep into our fabrics as a people, frequently rears its ugly head even in our intercommunity gatherings.
As a true Igbo man, I never argue or stand against most claims by my people in regard to being descendants of Yaakov, either through his sons, Gad, Zebulon, Menasha, Levi, among others, being the ten lost tribes of Israel or being the entire House of Israel. These claims stand tall to testify for themselves, among which are, the circumcision of a male child on the eight day, ablution, having Obu, prominent festivals, observing and giving reverence to new moon, community setting, immersion in water, belief in one Living G-d, reincarnation, moral values, Osu cult, among other related connections to Ancient Hebrew. I must state here, that being born as a Dibie, with my hands blessed with divinity and special gift of counseling and healing, I link most of our people’s religious and community activities to that of the original Hebrews. Some of my books attest to these facts.
The above, notwithstanding, my teachers, we must call a spade what it is, and not the other way round. The curse of Hashem to His people, if they eventually abandon Him for other gods remains, scattering them in all corners of the globe to worship idols to their taste. To this effect, I believe that our being here is a part of this curse. This indicates that most of our progenitors’ deeds are guided by idol worship. Owing to long stay in exile, a lot of depreciations must have been registered in the worship of Hashem, thereby severing us to the true service acceptable by Him. We must not avoid this fact.
On the other hand, our people, especially those relegated to the West African Region, lost the entire holy objects and artifacts that would have referenced us to most claims we make as the sons of Yaakov. This stands a very big challenge to us as Jews. The symbolic items we enjoy today, Torah Scrolls, tallitot, mezuzot, Jewish books, among other things, are preserved by a certain people. We now learn from them, without which we wouldn’t have known what being Jewish could be. If we can bend down in humility, we can lean on these facts and fashion out our own amendments, because, Hashem promised to bring back his people if they repent and seek His ways.
Thus; “If you return to Hashem, then your fellow Israelites and your children will be shown compassion by their captors and will return to this land, for the LORD your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn his face from you if you return to him.” _2 Chronicles 30 verse 9. I passionately believe, without doubt, that our people’s discovery of modern Judaism has its root in the above passage and other relevant Jewish Bible passages. I also think that our first move should be putting our house in order, because if we fail to do that, our white brothers will never do it for us. We may not have the privilege to vacate this land for the land of Israel, bearing in mind that only the Igbo nation has the population of more than fifty million men, women and children, other ethnicities not yet counted, while the current Israeli population may rank as being fourteen million persons. I often wonder how they could accept such intimidating populace, from various contemporary ethnicities, as their relatives and subsequently accommodate them. Very impossible!
My revered teachers, fellow scholars, elders, mothers, cantors, youths and children, permit me to round up this paper by suggesting some solutions to aid us towards clinching on an enviable identity for ourselves.
From the topics above, we are beginning to identity two major things that pose as monsters to our existence, acceptance and recognition as Jews in the contemporary world Jewry. The nonchalant attitudes of our white brothers which present two barriers, conversion and return, and our misconstrued attitudes, also coming from two different angles, stand to be crushed.
For us to rise up to the challenges, we must first determine to take the bulls by the horns through being resolute towards waving most of the monstrous challenges that have enslaved our consciences. A move towards strengthening our African Jewish home and fortifying her with Jewish studies, prayers and chalakhah remains the strongest ally to us. Thereafter, we will begin to institute the highest Jewish body to make laws and resolutions for us as a nation. This will come as a beit din.
We should have the central beit din and for each community. Through the favour of the Most High, we will be able to stitch all loopholes that have been barring us from effectively worshiping Him. We will subsequently fashion calendars that will reflect to the ones learnt from them, create our unique siddurin ,make laws that will be very authentic in tandem with chalakhah. At last we will draw down to us, most of our fellow blacks converted to Judaism for proper guidance and anticipated rituals for immersion, kosher animal killing and other things we ought to know.
In addition to the above, we must know that formal education stands as a generational thread that never cuts. Absence of this in our forefather’s lives dumped us in this rejection. We must, as a matter of urgency, build yeshiva and secular schools that will, in addition to learning contemporary education, will be strong in fashioning and preparing our young ones in sound Jewish education and morals. Success in this will bless us with powerful Torah students, Rabbis Talmudists, Cantors and good Jewish Instructors.
Our womenfolk should not be left out. Through the injunctions of the beit din, our women would be placed in their right position that will bring out from them the enviable identities of the Hebrew women.
What more, all these and more, if implemented on, will bless us with the favours of Hashem, instead of fearing rejection, our communities would begin to attract every concerned Jew.
My distinguished people, I wish to cap this discussion with a very captivating and motivational reply of one of our teachers, Rav Avraham BenYaakov (AZAMRA Institute, Jerusalem), to a question I asked him on our present status in the world Jewry. He said; “The reason you are not yet “officially” converted by rabbis to Judaism is only because technically it has not been possible either to transport all the would-be converts to the rabbis or to transport the rabbis to the would-be converts. Does that mean you should not serve the Lord God? If in your heart and soul you know you are called to observe the Torah, why wait for that “official conversion”: the knowledge of what the Torah requires is available; nothing stops you observing the Torah. Just do so in truth and honesty.
As to those who mock you, when you remain silent in the face of their mockery and continue serving G-d in love and patience, G-d accounts it to you as a very great merit.
What will be your fate at the end? We are all called to the Heavenly Court, where there is no favor and no flattery, and all will be judged by the Judge of Truth, Who knows everything and takes account of everything.”
On the reflections of the above inspirational note, I thank you, and may we merit to continually see Hashem’s blessings. AMEN!
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