Does one really need to have some superb qualities to be the wife of a rabbi? Or is it overly simple, and just the normal thing; so anybody can suite into that position?
These questions and a couple of others were running through my head when I first heard about her visit. I remember from one of Professor Miles’ emails, he introduced her as a psychologist with a PHD, a woman leader, teacher, as well as a public speaker. “That’s certainly a whole lot of ability for one person,” I reasoned. He went on to also notify me about her interest to meet with the women groups in Jewish Nigeria. So from the look of things, the Franklin-Miles tour is not only about visiting and learning about the African Jews- but to impact knowledge to the brothers and sisters in these Jewish communities.
Visiting Africa for the First Time, just After Hanukkah
It’s already a proven fact, that behind every successful man, there’s a great woman. For over 35 years, Mrs. Anne and her husband have worked so hard and diligently to lead the large congregation in Temple Emanu-EL, Rhode Island. Truly, it must have been years of many great achievement, challenges and victories recorded, through sheer dedication and input of selfless efforts.
Shortly after Hanukkah of 2018, on a Tuesday, being the Day Five of the tour and 11th of December, the Franklins arrived Abuja aboard a British Airways flight, and then picked up by Isaac Npumechi in his car, and brought straight to the synagogue in Kubwa. Settling down into the new environment wasn’t a big deal as I had initially thought. “The weather isn’t that much harsh,” according to Mrs. Anne. “Here’s such a fascinating place to be, and the view of the mountain from here is amazing- indeed it’s really nice to have visited, following all the interesting stories we’ve heard for such a long time.”
“Welcome once again to Africa,” I said to her. Then I quickly helped set-up her phone to be connected to the synagogue Wifi Network, so she can stay in touch with her contacts through the internet. Surely, it’s going to be a pretty busy tour across Jewish Nigeria, starting from the inauguration of the guest house in Tikvat Israel Synagogue Abuja.
Dressed To The Occasion Like The “Queen Of Kubwa”
The feelings of excitement filled the whole surrounding the evening before the guest house was officially commissioned. People were moving about around the synagogue vicinity, especially the women who were making preparations for tomorrow’s meal and other things. It seems like everybody has to be doing something- but then, another form of excitement sprang up in my mind- to go hiking on the 800 feet byazhin mountains in Kubwa.
Guess who made it to the top of the mountain? It was not Mrs. Anne and certainly not the Rabbi; but little Samuel and the professor from Boston, along with Ariel and his brother who both came from Anambra State to grace the occasion. From the top of the mountain we watched the evening sun sank into the horizon. It was a colorful view, and of course, the aerial view of the surrounding towns and the road network spanning across the Abuja metropolis. By the time we returned back to the synagogue it was already nightfall. After dinner, a group of students gathered to learn Ivrit with the Rabbi. However, the classes were dismissed early to give folks plenty of time to rest ahead of the big day tomorrow.
At sunrise, the gate of the synagogue was opened to welcome invited guests and non-Jewish neighbors to witness the launching of the 5-unit guest house. Speaking about guests, father Thomas, a well traveled Catholic clergy, was one of those called to the high table as the MC started the occasion. When Professor Miles was called, there was a moment of special welcoming by the elders, amidst clapping and cheers from the audience. The same honor and respect was displayed as the Rabbi, was shown to his seat, dresses like and African chief.
One of the most exciting moments was when Mrs. Anne stepped out, looking no different like the queen of the town. She was flanked by the woman led by the wife of Sar Habakkuk, as she takes a seat next to her husband, after saying few words to the cheerful crowd. Just like a queen, she looked so unique, dazzling in the reddish glory of the African royal outfit. From whatever angle one is positioned, looking towards the “high table”- the white queen is certainly the first to be noticed, radiating in shinning red. During her brief address to the audience, she mentioned about the role of the ima of the synagogues and joy of seeing families growing in the Jewish ways.
Interacting With Beautiful African Jewish Women At Yisharim Synagogue, Port Harcourt
The inauguration of the Rabbi Wayne Franklin Guest Quarters in Abuja, was followed by a combined Shabbat at Tikvat Israel Synagogue. And thereafter, the brief visit to Giyon Synagogue same day for the Havdallah service signaled the end of the Abuja tour. The following day, Mrs. Anne landed in Rivers state accompanied by her husband and Professor William.
The visit to Southern Nigeria will be the second time in the Franklin-Miles tour. The first leg was the “Shabbat Hanukkah” with Professor William Miles in the garden city of Port Harcourt. But this time around, the following were the expected events in the schedules:
- Bar Mitzvah of Shimshon and Tovia
- General/Women seminar in Yisharim Synagogue.
- An inter-faith conference at Yitzhak Rabin International School
- Visiting several synagogues around the State
Shortly after a terrific bar mitzvah ceremony of the sons of the Rosh of Yisharim Synagogue and Har Shalom synagogue (Aba, Abia State), the women gathered separately to listen to the Rabbi’s wife. The first and second speakers during the general seminar were Professor Miles and Rabbi Wayne Franklin respectively. But this time around, it was exclusively for the women, both the young and old- and I hoped I was not interrupting in any way listening to them.
For over an hour she was discussing and interacting with the women, who came from various synagogues in the State to learn. One of the topics was about raising children jewishly.
According to Mrs. Franklin who was speaking from many years of experience and being a mother as well. “Children are always watching you, whether you think they are, or you think they’re not. They’re listening to you whether you think they’re listening or sleeping. They’re always learning new things just from watching.”
Then referring to the mothers, she pointed out the connecting link between the children and the parents. “What we do, how we talk, how we solve problems, and how we deal with anger- our children are watching and learning.”
A Day Filled With Surprises. What A Memorable Event!
Earlier in the day, we were thrilled during the presentation of a song by a group of students in sweet Hebrew melodies. Dressed in white and blue, the Israeli colors, and led by their teacher Menasheh, the students of Mekor Chayim entertained the large congregation inside Yisharim Synagogue. And speaking about other surprises, the defining moment of the entire tour took place in the small hall outside the synagogue building. But before all that happened, the whole guests were treated to a delicious banquet of different dishes, fruits, and drinks. It was such a spectacular bar mitzvah celebration in a very unique way, no doubt.
Mrs. Franklin received an award of recognition from the Association of Rivers State Jewish Synagogue, in recognition of the support and outstanding contribution towards the growth of Judaism. The presentation was done by Moshe Ben Avraham, Rosh of Aaron Hakodesh Synagogue, on behalf of the Rivers State Jewish Association. According to the organizers, it was such an honor to have her visit Jewish Nigeria in support of the Rabbi’s mission to the African continent. Her involvement in the historic maiden trip to Africa will certainly open up more channels of communication and support between the American and the African Jewish women.
The entire surrounding was filled with many smiling faces. It was such a happy moment with visible connection of state of mind shared between the visitors and the host communities. There were also other gift presentation made by a synagogue from Ebonyi State- in the form of traditional Igbo outfit- and Har Shalom in Aba who presented a traditional mortar to the Rabbi, that can be used in welcoming any African guests in his Rhode Island residence.
Shmuel Ben Yonathan- the Lone Visitor From Delta State
The guests in attendance, numbering over two hundred and fifty people, from the following states, witnessed the colorful event at Yisharim Synagogue:
- Rivers State
- Ebonyi State
- Abia State
- Anambra State
- Delta State
And as most of them came from far distances, their gifts also traveled with them. One of such people surprisingly is Shmuel Ben Yonathan, who came from the Rock of Ages Synagogue in Delta State. He is only 13 years old and couldn’t make the journey alone, so was accompanied by a chazzan from Avishai Synagogue in Nkpor, Anambra State. Besides, it was his first time to Port Harcourt- and he journeyed the long road to present his own gift to Mrs. Franklin and the Rabbi.
I first met Shmuel last year in Asaba the capital of Delta State. He was such a smart young fellow, full of life, intelligent and also creative. Since our first meeting, I’ve become so fond of him and his desire to become an architect in the future. During his bar mitzvah, his reading from the Sefar Torah was so excellent, which was an indication of brighter hopes for the upcoming younger Jewish Nigeria generation. We had a little chat after his bar mitzvah, where he hinted me about his desire to do a painting of the expected American visitors.
The painting was unveiled and presented later in the evening at Aaron Hakodesh Knesset, shortly after the evening prayers. Mrs. Anne looked extremely excited as she received the art-work made by the charming little man in front of the few members of the synagogue. Shmuel couldn’t hide his expression as the Franklins warmly received the drawings. They all stood closely, had a brief chat, and then looked forward to keeping in touch in the years ahead.
Meeting With The Women Group In Adat Yisrael Synagogue Lagos
The Franklin-Miles Tour to Jewish Nigeria ended in Lagos with a spectacular Shabbat in Adat Yisaral Synagogue on 22nd of December, 2018. By the time we arrived Lagos, a total of about eleven synagogues have been visited in three different regions in the country. One of the events in the schedule was the seminar held at Olam Yisrael Synagogue. Which will be followed by keeping the Shabbat with our Lagos host in Adat Yisrael Knesset. Kish Ben Onyia and his lovely wife, Hadassah, were the host in Lagos during the concluding part of the tour.
When the women group met briefly in the afternoon after the Kiddush on Shabbat, they discussed a couple of things with the Rabbi’s wife. The role of the Jewish woman is very important and every virtuous mother ought to be conscious of this responsibility at all times. Their duty of unifying the home has been one of the true pillars of Judaism, and this is reflected as well in the synagogue, therefore bringing the much needed balance in the community. They also talked about how to handle a noisy child in the synagogue who is always fond of causing distraction during the prayer sessions.
At the end, it was time for questions from the audience, which Mrs. Franklin responded to accordingly, making few references to how they do things in her synagogue back in the United States. Then the meeting ended to allow people catch their breath before the afternoon prayers. For Mrs. Anne Franklin, it has been such a wonderful experience meeting, learning, and discussing with Jewish African women in Port Harcourt and Lagos.
She Will Be Missed, Indeed!
Perhaps unknown to her, but she is greatly missed back here in Jewish Nigeria. I did talk to a number of people who had nice things to say about the Rabbi’s wife. Many people recounted their short moment with her after some of the key events in Abuja and Port Harcourt. Not only is her simple nature adorable, many also fancied her intelligence and experience, good communication and her respect for the African women.
In one of her teachings back in Port Harcourt, she taught a group of women how to train a child to always put away some money in the safe for three purposes such as charity, for personal expenses, and as personal savings. She didn’t hide her admiration to little children and her concern about their welfare while growing up. Her connection to little children is so strong, that even after her return to the States, her two little friends in Adat Yisrael Synagogue, Hadassah and Orah, kept asking me for three consecutive Shabbats if the Rabbi’s wife will be coming on that Shabbat day.
Remembering her final moments in Nigeria- she looked so excited as we went for a little relaxation on the beach with Rosh Kish and his wife, Ima Hadassah. It was certainly not a bad idea to dip ones feet into the Atlantic from this side of the world. Before returning back to the Rosh’s lekki residence, we went for a drive around the metropolis. After lunch, we got all the trunks and bags loaded into the vehicle, and moved straight to the Airport.
The Franklin-Miles tour to Jewish Nigeria may have ended, but many look forward to another visit of the Rabbi’s wife. She has no doubt become an inspiration to many of the women she meet in Africa, including the younger Jewish generation. They sincerely look forward to her future support in whatever ways, which can help transform the Jewish mothers into a higher person to an extent, both spiritually and physically.