By: Abraham Ben Abraham

On the 24th of March 2019, we found ourselves again back on the road shortly before sunrise. It was a rainy Sunday morning- and traveling to Anambra State the first thing on our calendar schedule.

The previous day, being on a Shabbat- how wonderful spending time with folks of a new Jewish community. After talking with Rosh Derekyahu during my other visit to Har Shalom Synagogue in Aba, I was able to learn many things about his congregation. By the time we were leaving in the morning, he thanked and wished us well on the mission of the day. As a Rosh, he fully understood that the inauguration of a new synagogue means expansion of Judaism in Nigeria.

Outside Beit Yaakov Haknesset

How Do We Measure Expansion?

By Expansion what I mean is simply growth. So generally, when we talk about expansion of Judaism in Nigeria, we’re basically looking at some underlying factors that can serve as a yardstick. To define this properly, let’s look at three important aspects.

#Number One: Giving Birth to A New Child

Whenever Jewish parents bring in a new child into the world, then it calls for a celebration. Because automatically, without you knowing about it or not, growth has taken place to an extent. So whether it’s more brit milahs or naming ceremonies- what all signifies is an addition to the size of the community.

#Number Two: Putting Up A New Synagogue

Let’s assume this takes place in a surrounding without any synagogue, and then this could be more effective eventually. The positioning is a determining factor worthy to attract more people. The fact now is that more people are beginning to become aware of the Judaism movement. Hence, all that is needed is to have a synagogue within the neighborhood, so folks who have heard and willing to belong, could at least simply find a starting point.

#Number Three: The Marriage Corridor

Marriages are truly happy times for Jews all over the world. The more we witness more and more of these Jewish unions, then the future growth in Judaism is fully guaranteed and assured. This is absolutely as simple as it sounds.

However, this post is neither about child birth nor marriages, but specifically centered on an expansion of Jewish activities in Anambra State.

All Roads Lead To Agulu As Jewish Nigeria Gets A New Synagogue

By the time we arrived at the venue, the opening prayer for the ceremony was underway. I was traveling alongside Eben Cohen, who is one of the organizers and planning committee for setting up the new synagogue. This is not the first inauguration initiated and masterminded by him. Talk of a man, a teacher of all teachers, and virtually a honorable name when it comes to the history and progress of Judaism in Nigeria.

Settling down, I quickly dressed into my attire for the day, and got straight to the task at hand. In the audience, I could spot a few familiar faces and many unknown ones as well. So perhaps, after all this is over, there’ll be plenty of catching-ups and a few new necessary introductions.

Let’s Look At Seven Facts Drawn From The Inauguration of Beit Yaakov Haknesset!

Get Set. Let’s Begin.

#Fact 1: Anambra Is The Heartbeat Of Jewish Nigeria

Even though my journey into Judaism is just about two years plus, but traveling alongside Professor William Miles and Sar Habakkuk exposed me to real facts on the ground. As traveling writers; Miles and I didn’t mind to follow any road to wherever it leads, just to learn and report the story as it is.

From our findings, three places with the highest number of synagogues should be:

  1. Anambra State
  2. Rivers State, and
  3. Imo State

Numbering over 20 synagogues on the top spot, the unique thing about Anambra State is that the state is headquarters of the largest messianic movement in Nigeria (The Community of Hashem). The speedy growth of Judaism within the State, as well as other locations, can be traced from the conversion from one movement into another. A greater percentage of Jews here have their initial background in the messianic circles.

History however was made after this 2019 Purim celebrations, as the new synagogue sprang to life, adding to the number of synagogues in the state.

Previous Post on Jewish Nigeria: Sights & Sounds of Purim Jews Across Nigeria Celebrate the Victory Over Haman At Shushan

List of Synagogues in Anambra State:
Awka:

  • Beit Shalom Knesset
  • Torah Haqadosh Jewish Congregation
Abraham Ben Abraham & Chazzan Schmuel

Nkpor:

  • Avishai Synagogue
  • Ohr Adonai Synagogue

Nnewi:

  • Israel Amikah Synagogue                                                                              
  • Melek Kivod Synagogue
  • Nel Tamid Synagogue
  • Ohr Shekinah Synagogue
  • Seed of Faith Synagogue

Onitsha:

  • Adat Emunat Yehudim Synagogue
  • Orthodox in Library
Representatives from Amika Yisrael Synagogue, Nnewi

Others:

  • Aleph Orthodox Jewish Synagogue, Amichi
  • B’nai Israel
  • Beit Yoseph, Uli
  • Divine Seed of Adonai Synagogue Int’l Inc, Neni
  • Gilgal’s Synagogue
Master of the Ceremony standing next to Rosh Zered during Kiddush
  • Igbo Jewish Synagogue, Ogidi
  • Israel in Africa, Uke
  • Ohav Shalom, Obosi
  • Seed of Hashem, Nise

And of course, today, Beit Yaakov Hakneset becomes the newest Jewish Synagogue throughout the country!

#Fact 2: Ephraim Ben David Becomes The Newest Rosh in Town

Mazal Tov to my brother, Ephraim Ben David!

Or rather from now, I should be addressing him as my Rosh and Teacher.

One of the speakers in the occasion described the new Rosh as certainly “not the oldest, richest, or most knowledgeable among us: but yet, Hashem did select him to bring Judaism into Agulu and its surroundings.”  It was quite bravely for him to have initiated the Judaism movement starting from his home town of Ifiteani village in Agulu.

As we give accolade to him, the same should be accorded to the wife, for her support and readiness to assume the new role.Interestingly,  Ima Sarah shares a lot in common with her husband. Let’s take a look at few:

Ephraim and Sarah
  1. Both of them hail from the same Anambra State
  2. They’re both now leaders. While Ephraim leads the synagogue, she is the ima of the synagogue on the other hand.
  3. By profession and trade- Ephraim and Sarah are Jewish tailors and merchants

With a wealth of experience spanning over 10 years, the new Rosh is known as one of the best Jewish tailors in the country. Working alongside his beautiful wife, they make the following materials from quality fabrics:

  • Different sizes of made-in-Nigeria Tallit
  • Kippa of various colors and knitted designs
  • Tallit kitan of all sizes

They’re also known for distributing other non-textile custom made Jewish items, such as:

  • Arm-bands and Bracelets
  • Necklace
  • Earings

Products made by them are usually custom made with a good sense of quality. Speaking from experience? Yes, of course, because I currently use their materials.

Well anyway, before the end of this post, I’ll summarize my last interview with him. Mazal Tov to the newest Rosh in town!

#Fact 3: Eleven Heads of Synagogues Stormed Agulu To Give Their Support

Call it the gathering of Rosh- yes, which is what it was on that day. The success of this inauguration x-rayed the deep cooperation, unity and collaboration of the Jewish communities in Anambra State. The occasion was attended by renowned leaders of some of the oldest and existing synagogues in Anambra. Then outside the state, the Rock of Ages Synagogue in Delta State was represented by the Rosh accompanied by the wife. I didn’t expect to run into them again after over 6 months. I remembered Discovering A Young and Talented Jew As We Graced The Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebration in Delta State.

List of Rosh in attendance:

  • Emmanuel Ikenegbulam: Avishai Synagogue, Nkpor
  • Yonathan Ben Okonji: Rock of Ages Synagogue, Asaba
  • Zered Ben Abraham: Alef Orthodox Jewish Synagogue, Amichi
  • Ben Shem Tov: Israel in Africa, Uke
  • Elder Elisha Nwabueze, Neni

#Fact 4: Starting Small, Instead of Never Getting Started

The assignment to sustain and strengthen the Judaism network in Nigeria is a duty for everyone; males and females alike, both young and old- all of us are involved. While some may only dream in their sleep about making a significant impact, but the ones who dream with opened eyes are the ones honored at the end for producing results.

What happened at Agulu has laid a foundation for the spread of Judaism in this quiet community, the home town of a formal governor of the state. This move is comparable as moving the knight in a game of chess, into a tactical position in the opposition’s camp. And with other existing Synagogues attacking from all over the board- one can easily predict Anambra as the first checkmate Jewish territory in the future.

The Agulu Synagogue is already planning for a temporal structure to commence Shabbat-keeping and other festivals. They already have two young chazzans, who are:

  1. Yoseph Ben Israel
  2. Zerach Chidi Ugonabo

Even a couple of Jewish folks residing in Agulu already make up to the number required to get a Myian. They’re also looking to observing the upcoming Pesach in Agulu. No doubt, with this momentum they have- there’re moving with pretty good pace. Thanks to the zealous and determined new Rosh, with over 20 years of Judaism experience he brings to the table. 

#Fact 5: Judaism and The Act of Charity

Charity plays a significant role in the religion of Judaism. The Jews haven passed through terrible times, scattered apart, and then finally regrouped again in various parts of the globe- they fully understand the magic of communal growth. It’s mostly about energy, positioning, and work- then a mix of acts of charity to get things down and strengthen their community network.

Through the acts of charity, wealth has been redistributed internationally for the course of propagating Judaism. It does make sense when everyone is involved in whatsoever degree of contribution, which makes it possible to do whatever is required to do.

An old saying says that “whatever is worth doing is worth doing well.” After we have eaten to satisfaction, and taken the best drinks to celebrate the inauguration, it was time to launch the first charity- to support the growth of Beit Yaakov Kaknesset.

How impressive to see both individuals and synagogues participating in the act. At the end, monies were donated to get the following for the Agulu synagogue:

  1. One Tanach
  2. One AshScroll Siddur
  3. New set of plastic seats for service.

Then to the next FACT…

#Fact 6: Leverage Of Unity For The Growth Of Judaism

Unity is a strong force which binds us together, making way for smooth progress along the path of Judaism. By following the path of truth as directed in the Halakhah through constant practical- then perfection increases and the act is generally sustained. 

Achieving all these calls for frequent collaborations and meetings amongst various synagogues in every surrounding. The closer we become is what actually determines how stronger we are at any point in time. This was openly demonstrated as heads of synagogues rallied around Ephraim, on a united front and fully in support of bringing Judaism into the Agulu environment.

My Brief Interview With The Rosh

Prior to the occasion, I’ve spoken to Ephraim several times over the phone. I wanted to know why it was so important for him to begin Jewish activities right from his hometown.

Ephraim standing next to Rosh Ben Shem Tov

We continued our conversation when I met him during the inauguration in Agulu. It was certainly a busy day, with over 200 persons in attendance. However, when we briefly spoke at the end of the day, he had three things to say:

  • It’s a dream come true to witness the inauguration of this synagogue. Igbo people need Judaism because Judaism is our origin. More people in Agulu will soon embrace Judaism from now, as we’re now very much in the neighborhood.
  • Other religions have taken away a lot of our Igbo brothers and sisters, which is not supposed to be so. To make more impact in these modern days, it’s not a bad idea to use new ways that does accommodate rapid changes that comes from technology and the times we live, while still preserving the context of traditional Judaism.
  • I’m grateful and thankful to everyone who attended this occasion to show their support. May Hashem greatly reward all of you.

#Fact 7: The Journey Of A New Synagogue

The journey of a new Jewish community is usually a daunting task for the leadership to keep everything in one piece. Challenges and limitations are things to watch out for- but with patience and the right support, the journey will be sustained.

The first Shabbat has been held at Beit Yaalov Haknesset just a week after the inauguration ceremony. This, indeed, is good news. The next milestone should be 25 Shabbat successfully held, and then 52 Shabbat as well.

Summary Of The Inauguration Ceremony

For those who were not able to attend, and for our readers far away, here’s how it all happened:

Rosh Zered Ben Abraham addressing Agulu People
  1. Opening Prayers
  2. Torah Portion of the day, which was taken by the following speakers: Eben Cohen, Ben Shem Tov, Yeremyahu Nwokeabia, Zered Ben Abraham.
  3. Introduction of Dignitaries
  4. Speech By Ephraim Ben David, Rosh of the New Synagogue.
  5. Inauguration prayers and Blessings were said from the following books: Shemoth, Ezekiah, Vayikra, Psalms 30, 127, 121, & 23, which was read in Hebrew by Rosh Uriel Ben Israel, EBen Cohen, Zered Ben Abraham, and Chazzan Schmuel Iddo (Avishai Synagogue).
  6. Kiddush conducted by Zered Ben Abraham, Rosh of Alef Orthodox Jewish Synagogue, Amichi
  7. Breaking of kolanuts
  8. Refreshment
  9. Vote of Thanks
  10. Remarks, and closing prayers
Rosh Ephraim with the Children

Our prayers and wishes is that Beit Yaakov Haknesset should continue to grow and remain well positioned to propagate Judaism and Jewish ways of life in the town of Agulu and the surrounding environs. I look forward to news of the upcoming Pesach observed fully in the New Synagogue.

See you next time!

Shalom!

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