By Deborah bat Shaul
Youths have been described as the unifying force capable of strengthening the Judaism network- not just in Jewish Nigeria, but across Africa and other emerging (and re-emerging) communities worldwide. Since it is popularly said that the future belongs to the youths- hence whatever happens at least 100 years from now would be dependent on the actions of the younger generations of today. Judaism as a religion and way of life has been preserved from one generation to the next. At any point in time in the century, it is the responsibilities of the current generation to pass these sacred traditions to their children.
The present day Jewish Nigeria, which cuts across thirteen states and spanning over four regions is blessed with vibrant group of youths. The interactions between these groups and in the wake of communication explosion- stronger bond have been created eventually.
Creating Stronger Bonds Across Jewish Nigeria Through the National Youth Shabbat Movement
The impact of the National Youth Movement has been greatly felt since the idea was brought forward by Gadi Bentley in 2016. Usually held at least three times yearly, a national gathering of young Jews (for a 3-days event) have provided a platform fostering unity across existing synagogues.
However, apart from this association in the national levels, some states have managed to organize their youth movement to leverage their strength at home to the fullest. One of such states is Ebonyi State, located in the South Eastern part of the country. Just like the national movement, the state youth Shabbat is similar in most aspects.
On the 21st to 24th of June, the youth Shabbat held in Ebonyi State surpassed all the other previous ones. This was evident in the fact that it attracted visitors from other regions, making it to resemble the typical National Youth Shabbat. Anyway, to fully understand and compare these two events, let’s first of all briefly look at how both of them usually end.
A Football Match and The General Meetings Marks The End Of The Youth Shabbat
Typical of every youth Shabbat, both in the national or state level- a friendly football match is held on the final day of the 3 days event. This is usually one of the most exciting moments as the youths take to the field to enjoy some moments of recreational activities. During the last (national) edition, which was aimed at creating stronger bonds across Jewish Nigeria through the national youth Shabbat movement– it was also another opportunity for the young men to show off their soccer skills.
Similarly, the following day after the (state) youth Shabbat held at Ezzamgbo, the morning drill began with a road work. When we got to the field, the following people persons acted as the instructors:
- Baruch ben Avraham, and
- Daniel ben Yochanna
After the physical exercise, it was now time to play the football match. Two teams were selected at random, made up of eleven players each, and headed by the following people:
- Eliyahu ben Avraham and
- Ezra ben Avraham
At the end of the match, the first team defeated the other by four goals to one. Then at the end of the game, we hurried back to the camp to conclude the remaining activities that include:
- The morning shacharit, and then
- The general meeting
Due to limited time, the girls didn’t need to participate in the morning prayers. Rather they opted to arrange the meal for breakfast, while the males who looked worn out after the soccer match were allowed to catch their breath, get refreshed and then gathered to conduct the prayers.
Then during the general meeting, which is usually the final activity that marks the end of the 3-days youth gathering, Rosh Yochanan was one of the speakers. He commended the spirited zeal of the youths and also:
- Encouraged us to have the fear of Heaven
- Avoid going contrary to the instructions of the Torah
- Love each other, and
- Keep the lights of Judaism shinning in the state and beyond.
There were also other speakers who made meaningful contributions- highlighting some of the problems faced by the youths and hence suggesting the way forward. The beauty of the whole idea of the youth Shabbat can fully be seen in the leadership roles played by the youths during the entire Shabbat service.
All Synagogues Represented As Youths Led The Entire Order Of Service
The uniqueness of the youth Shabbat is usually the active participation of our youths in conducting the service of the day. Generally, typical occasions such as this are best tagged as youth-led Shabbat. Whether on the national level or state level- the fact still remains that it’s an all-youth affair. For the former, services are headed by representatives from different states across Jewish Nigeria, while in the latter we see representatives from different Knessets assuming similar prayer duties.
The Shabbat Erev Service
Lighting the Shabbat candles (18 minutes before Sh’kiah) preceded the beginning of the Shabbat. Excitement and joyfulness filled the air around as the guests were expected to arrive from different parts of the state in no distant time.
The prayers finally got underway, led by Eliyahu ben Avraham (hagaon). And as the service continued, everyone (both the elders, youths and children) felt the usual holiness and joyous feelings of the beauty of the Shabbat. This was fully demonstrated when the Shabbat hymn (Lecha Dodi) was sang in ecstasy by everyone present. This energy was however maintained until the concluding prayers (Aleinu), making the Shabbat evening a special one indeed.
After the prayers, we went for the kiddush and then enjoyed the sumptuous delicacies served as the Shabbat meal. The birkat hamazon (blessing after meal) was melodiously chorused around the table at the end of the meal. After which the chief rosh, Yochanan Ibe Ben Avraham, gave a special welcome speech, and encouraged the spirited zeal of the youths in serving the Almighty, and urged us to continue in such path, in order to ensure a better Jewish practice in Nigeria.
The Shabbat Shacharit (Morning Service)
The shacharit service began at exactly eight am in the morning. The synagogue was filled with over a hundred worshipers ready to be connected to the heavens through the morning prayer rituals.
- Nathaniel Ben Avraham from (Ohr Hakodesh knneset Abakaliki), began the prayers from berachot hashachar (morning blessings).
- Daniel Ben Yocannan took up the service from mizmor Shir chanukat habayit l’david (psalm 30).
- Then the tehillim (psalms) were recited respectfully by different chazzanim (cantors) in sweet Nigerian melodies. The order in which the prayers were done was truly exciting and motivated everyone inside the building .
- Eliyahu Ben Avraham (from Beit Yaakov) took off from shochein ad Marom (he who abides forever) till the Torah service.
- Yeshayahu Ben Shaul lighted up the synagogue with his melodies, in a way that moved everyone into a great feelings of happiness. When it comes to singing, he is popularly known as one of the best in the state, gifted in the skills of music.
The Torah Service (The apex of the Sabbath)
When it was now time for the Torah reading, the ark was opened by Benyamin Ben Avraham, who handed the Sefer Torah to Eliyahu Ben Avraham for the procession to begin. Moving gradually, the Torah was kissed by the congregants as the scroll passed around, signifying our love for the Torah and the Giver of torah. One after the other, some adult males carried the Torah and danced around the bima. There was this moment of extreme excitement as Yeshayahu led the popular Nigerian melody of “boney verachamav Yerushalayim.” Finally, we all took our sit when the Torah was placed on the bimah.
The two balei khorim (torah readers) who read from the Torah were:
- Nathaniel Ben Avraham and
- Emmanuel Ben Penniel (from Igbo Jewish Community Synagogue Ogidi, Anambra State).
Seven aliyiot were taken, from reading of the week, parshat behaalot’ka. Then immediately after the Torah reading, m’shebeirachot (various blessings) were recited including prayer for our country and prayers for the state of Israel, till the torah reading was concluded. After which the Sefer Torah was returned into the ark with the singing of psalm 29. Then followed by the additional prayers for the service (Musaf).
The D’var Torah By Eliyahu ben Avraham
The teaching from the parasha Behaalot’ka talked about the light of the menorah. One important teaching learned is the continuous observance of the commandments with a great zeal as if it was given to you that same day. When the almighty, commanded Aaron to light the menorah, he lighted the menorah with great delight and love for the Almighty and for the commandment. With the same enthusiasm, for the forty years Aaron lit the menorah, he never for one day got tired or fed up with the commandment, rather he continued with the same zeal as if it was the first time he was commanded to do so. Hence, this also applies with our everyday observance of the mitzvots.
Citing an example, he said that a cantor shouldn’t recite the prayers perfunctorily or without even looking at the siddur since you already know the wordings of every page. Halakhah states that even if you know every single word, you should pray from the siddur still, as long as you have one. In such way, you won’t feel proud, unmindful or feel like it’s nothing new, and the fear of heaven would be upon you.
Concluding The Shabbat With A Breathtaking Havdalah Service
As the morning session ended, we all converged for the Shabbat morning meal and took some few hours of rest thereafter. Next, it was time for the Mincha service, followed by the Maariv prayers- bringing the long day closely to an end. So far; the prayers, teachings and learning, the joy, the peace and unity, the fun and of course the food- all made the Shabbat a memorable one! To bid farewell to the Sabbath, everyone gathered again for the Havdalah service. Havdalah, which literally means “separation,” refers to the concluding ceremony that separates the Holy Sabbath from ordinary weekday time and consciousness.
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The Havdalah Prayers, usually recited over a full cup of wine, was conducted by Eliyahu ben Avraham. Then following the traditions, the popular Eliyahu Ha-Navi melody was chorused in great joy.
“Eliyah Ha-navi, Eliyahu Ha-tishbi,
Eliyahu, Eliyahu, Eliyahu Ha-gil’adi.
Bim’hera v’yameinu yavo eleinu’
im mashiah ben David,
ima mashi-ah ben David……………..”
“Elijah the prophet, Elijah the Tishbite, from Gilead.
May you come speedily, in our time,
Bringing the Messiah, descended from David….”
Soon, the whole surrounding was heated up with singing and dancing in celebration of the end of the Sabbath. While the males were dancing in groups and singing on top of their voices, the ladies and girls were also doing the same thing! This continued long into the night until everyone was completely exhausted. No doubt, it was one of the most amazing Sabbaths held in the State!
Preparation For The Youth Shabbat
Preparing for the three days event entails a lot of hard work and management efforts by the host synagogue. But in the case of Ebonyi State, the Ezzamgbo camp that has continually been the hosting venue has all it takes in terms of accommodation and proximity to the surrounding Knessets around.
So with the 4th edition of the State Youth Sabbath successfully held, I took some time to reflect on the preparations made. Before the arrival of guests to the venue, a group of people had to work tirelessly to ensure that everything was put into place. Which is why prior to ending this post, I’ll like to mention a few people who made extraordinary input during the preparation stage.
The following took it upon themselves to see to the preparation of the Sabbath meal for the over hundreds of guests expected:
- Imah Naomi bat yochanan,
- Haddasah bat Shlomo,
- Haddassah bat Avraham,
- Beracha bat Yocannan,
- Kevod bat Yocannan, and
- Rachel bath Avraham. Two other Imahs who did the supervision of the cooking process were:
- Imah yocheved bat Avraham ( wife to our chief rosh), and
- Ephretha bat Yehoshua
The following male helped in slitting the firewood as well as assisting the women in some of the tedious cooking related activities:
- Baruch Ben Avraham and
- Moshe Ben Shlomo.
Also, appreciating the rest of the folks who helped out in the cleaning of the synagogue building and the surrounding compound, as well as doing the arrangements of the seats for the praying session.
The major reason this Youth Shabbat surpassed the previous editions was because it attracted various visitors from other states across Nigeria. These special guests lighted up the whole occasion as some of our own youths (currently observing their NYSC) in far away northern Nigeria couldn’t make it down to the east. We’re grateful to the Jews who made it from Abia State, Imo State, Lagos State, Rivers State, and Anambra State. Our profound gratitude also goes to the following person:
- Chazzan Daniel ben Mikael (who deemed it worthy to use his car in conveying the Sefar Torah from Anambra State, covering a distance of over 350 kilometers in the round trip).
- The management of the Igbo Jewish Community Synagogue Ogidi (Anambra State) for making their Sefer Torah available for this event.
May the Holy One of Yisrael (Blessed is He) continue to shine His face upon us and reward our kindness and efforts in propagating and strengthening the Judaism Network in Nigeria and beyond.
Deborah bat Shaul
About Deborah bat Shaul: Deborah bat Shaul is a contributory writer for the Jewish Nigeria Blog. She is an undergraduate of Mass Communication in Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ebonyi State. The young novelist and poetess is a devoted Jew and currently a member of Beit Yaakov in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State (Eastern Nigeria).
Upcoming Stories on Jewish Nigeria Blog:
- The kulanu Across The Globe Event
- National Youth Seminar in Anambra State
- Inauguration Ceremony at The Igbo Jewish Community Synagogue, Ogidi, Anambra State
- Upcoming Jewish Wedding in Anambra State
- The Miles-Cohen International Tour