Three. Two. One. And Zero!
The plane swished passed through the runway at peak speed, lifting into the cloudy sky with full blast, as we bade farewell to Northern Nigeria. It was an AirPeace flight from Abuja to the coal city of Enugu. Memories of Enugu always come to mind whenever I recall some old school days back in Enugu State University of Science and Technology (studying Chemical Engineering).
But the only difference- was that this time around is the second part of the Miles-Cohen International tour. Our first assignment was to meet a combined congregation of Jews at the headquarters in Ezzamgbo (just at the outskirt of the capital at Ebonyi State). Continuing with my Hebrew learning process, it was time to wrap up the current phase of the lessons ahead of the official commencement of the Eastern Nigeria tour.
Arriella, my volunteer Hebrew teacher during the tour, who has just returned back to the United States the previous day- means I needed a makeshift tutor to keep me on track. Seated next to me was Professor William Miles, who was glad to take over as the standby Hebrew coach for the remaining days. Together, we went over some pages of a Hebrew learning textbook before the flight touched down at the airport in Enugu.
Two of our brothers, Baruch Ben Avraham and Daniel, were waiting at the airport as we arrived. The estimated time of travel to our final destination in Ebonyi State was just about an hour. But the brother behind the wheel had to step on the gas so we could arrive at the synagogue in Ezzambgo before the beginning of the Shabbat.
Shabbat In Ezzambgo
This is not my first time to Jewish Ebonyi especially after hearing so many amazing things about the Jews in the State. A couple of months ago, there were 10 things I learned after visiting two Jewish communities in Ebonyi State. Four months after that period, and now visiting with Professor William- we had the intention of embarking on an extended tour across the length of the State- beginning with a Shabbat keeping at Ezzambgo.
Ezzamgbo, which is located at the outskirt of the Abakaliki (the State capital), has been the headquarters of all Jewish activities in the State. Adat Emunat Ha Yehudim, headed by Yochannan Ibe, has served as a center of unification for the Jews in Ebonyi for several years. Majority of the combined Shabbos services, Jewish festivals like Pesach, and other related ceremonies have been successfully hosted in the Ezzamgbo headquarters.
Upon our arrival at the Ezzamgbo Jewish community, we were greeted by the Rosh and his beautiful wife. After ushering the American professor into a room, which coincidently was also used by Rabbi Howard Gorin in his last visit to the state- the Shabbat candles were lighted. Then, after settling in, we hurried towards the synagogue to catch up with the beginning of the Shabbat Erev prayers.
There were only a handful of brothers and sisters as the prayers commenced. But as the prayers went on, more people coming from different parts of the State joined us in welcoming the Shabbat. Among them were Kislon Eben Cohen, a reputable Hebrew teacher and founder of the TorahWorld Outreach. Another committed individual, apart from leaders of other Knessets around the State, was elder Ukpabio of Ohr Hakodesh Kehillah. Immediately after the Kabalat service, indeed there was plenty of happy catch-ups to do.
Then it was time for Kiddush, which was done in the open, under the dark night skies. Next, we had a delicious Shabbat meal, served by the wife of the chief Rosh, the ima of the synagogue.
During the Shacharit service, the synagogue was filled with over a hundred worshipers. But just as expected, without any Sefer Torah, the morning service ended quite on time; as the parashat was read using the Tanach. However, in honor of the visitor in their midst, the maftir portion of the parashat was given to Professor William Miles. Also, the congregants listened to the D’var Torah given by Professor William- as he narrated comparatively, the 40 years wilderness venture of Moshe who led the Israelites (but ended up not entering into the land) and his 40 years journey so far visiting Western Africa.
During the break- just about two and half hours after the shacharit service- a group of youths gathered for a brief chat with the visiting professor. The location was outside the synagogue building, under a set of trees that provided shed from the afternoon sun. The discussions, which focused on the Jewish Holocaust and the concern about general safety of Jewish worshipers around this part of the World, lasted for about an hour and half.
After this, everyone returned back to the main building for the completion of the Shabbat. The young cantors led the prayers fervently, bringing the long day to its end. The Havdallah service was held in the open, under the young night sky. How amazing to see the joyful mood of the congregants as we marked the rituals of separating the Shabbat from the new week. It was one of the most fascinating and memorable Havdallah service I’ve seen in a long while.
Meeting Members Of Beit Yaakov
The following day we hit the road to explore other Jewish centres in the state, starting from the capital, which is Abakaliki. Our tour schedules for the day include two synagogues located at two separate ends of the town. One of the popular brothers, Kingsley Tanyi, had arrived Ezzamgbo at noon and then conveyed us in his vehicle to the state capital.
In less than 15 minutes, the vehicle pulled up in front of the gate of Beit Yaakov. We were given a warm welcome by members of the synagogue, who were excited about the maiden visit of Professor Miles to the state. Just 4 months ago, the visit was first announced- and now it has become a reality.
Most interestingly, the knesset houses the only Jewish library in the state. The small library is credited to Rabbi Howard Gorin, who did spent a lot of time traveling across the state, teaching and guiding the existing Jewish communities on the right path of Judaism. It’s also on record that Beit Yaakov, located near the popular Presco Junction in Abakaliki is the oldest Jewish Centre in the state.
During the brief interaction with the congregants, everyone had the chance to introduce themselves including the women and children. Then, we were treated to a delicious meal, shortly before the end of the visit. Professor Miles also donated a copy of his book, “The Jews of Nigeria,” to the library and thanked the leadership of the synagogue for their kind hospitality.
Hosted to Another Feast At Ohr Hakodesh Kehillah
Our next stop was at Ohr Hakodesh Kehillah, located around the Hilltop area of the state. By the time we arrived, there was a full house waiting to welcome the August visitor from the United States. During my previous visit to the Hilltop Synagogue, I met the rosh and his wife, Avraham ben Ya’akov and Brakhah bat Sarah. I must say, both of them are one of the kindest and most friendly couple I have come across in Ebonyi State.
The members of the synagogue, led by their leader, were standing just outside the building to welcome us. Then after washing our hands, and getting into a sitting position in the synagogue, elder Akpabio flagged off the occasion. He began by reading a welcome address, and appreciating Professor Miles for honoring the invitation to visit Ebonyi State. At the end of the speech, he officially requested for continued collaboration between the Jews in America and their counterparts across Jewish Nigeria.
Next, just according to the tradition of the Igbo people, kolanut was presented to the visitor. And on the other hand, simultaneously, we blessed the Challah and distributed to everyone around. After this, we never expected that we would be treated to another sumptuous feasting, especially after the other round at the Presco Synagogue. But certainly, there was little we could do, in terms of rejecting offers given to a visitor!
The last light of the day was almost fading from the sky when we bade farewell to this wonderful community. At least, we had the chance to also know almost all the members and their families during the brief introduction session. Indeed, it was an unforgettable visit, and it was also lovely to learn about the forth coming Jewish/Igbo wedding of the daughter of the rosh coming up by December in Ebonyi State.
An Unforgettable Climb To The Abakaliki Hilltop
According to a popular saying, “if the mountain doesn’t come to Mohammed, then Mohammed will go to the mountain.” And just right behind us, stood a less-rocky hill, which supposedly is the highest ground across the state capital. Generally, Ebonyi State is not known as a mountainous area, so for the synagogue to be located close to the foot of a hilly upland is truly amazing and somehow an unexpected coincidence.
Naturally, Jews are attracted to mountains, perhaps because of their ancestral connections with the story at the Sinai. And of course, Moshe going up the mountain on several occasions including his last day on earth. Hence the reason Jewish people have strong affinity for mountains and high rising land, I’d say.
The sun was already positioned towards the western horizon when a group of about 30 Jews began the climb up the hill. But first, we had to circle around to the other side of the hill to be able to access the path leading to the peak. Going through the lean path to the top, we gave support to each other, applying safety procedures to ensure everyone safely got to the top.
From the hilltop, the overview of the Abakaliki metropolitan area was right in front of us. It was one of the most exciting and unforgettable moment throughout the tour across Jewish Ebonyi.
Stopping At Onueke To Say Hello To Brothers And Sisters In Two Synagogues
The following day, we said goodbye to the host community of our base in Ezzamgbo and got back on the road. After the visit to three synagogues in the last three days, our travel plans still indicated three other synagogues to be visited before the final exit from Ebonyi, which included:
- Jewish Faith Congregation, Onueke
- Adonai Echad Synagogue, Onueke
- T’Pheret Israel Congregation, Afikpo
The first synagogue was located in Ezza South Local Government Area. From our brief interaction with the members, we learned about their journey into Judaism. Starting out initially as Messianic Jews, which was later abandoned completely for Orthodox Judaism, led by rosh Yochanan Ibe. The change was possible since some of their own townsmen living in faraway Anambra State were already Jews as at that time, and occasionally have returned home to throw more light about Judaism.
After a brief introduction, we went straight into the discussion session. We were told about the unfriendly attitude of their non-Jewish neighbors who have been calling them all sort of names. One Hadassah bat Yaakov stood up and shared some of the ugly relationship with her neighbors where she resides.
Soon, it began to rain and therefore we needed to leave at once and get back on the road to visit the other synagogue in Onueke, before continuing our movement to Afikpo. We were entertained with some local delicacies and some drinks to gladden our hearts. Before leaving, we sang brikat hamazon with the members and wished them all the best. There are about six families which make up this small synagogue, yet their dedication to uphold Judaism was truly fascinating.
Driving under the heavy rains, we pulled over at Adonai Echad Synagogue and were welcomed by the rosh and his happy-looking wife, the ima of the Knesset. Originally, there used to be only one synagogue in Onueke, but it was split into two due to some fundamental reasons. We had to spend just a couple of minutes, bade them farewell, and then headed back on the road towards the border town.
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The Jews Of Afikpo
Afikpo is one of the oldest region in the state, popularly known as a former educational town, and a mountainous area. It’s also an important nodal town, with access roads linking other states in the East and Southern parts of the country.
Passing through the meandering and hilly roads as we drove through the town, our first stop was at T’Pheret Israel Congregation. The location of the synagogue was at the foot of a valley, so we had to step out of the vehicle and complete the rest of the movement on feet. By the time we entered into the temporal-building used for worship, it was time to say the Mincha prayers. A young chazzan, Israel Ben Shmuel, led the prayers and we all chorused Aleinu at the end in a joyous mood.
Later in the evening, everyone gathered in a safe house were we would be passing the night. It was time to interact and met the Jews of Afikpo, especially the women and young girls who had greeted our arrival with sweet melodious songs. The rosh, Modechai ben Avraham, was there to answer all the questions presented by Professor Williams. He talked about the coming of Rabbi Gorin to Afikpo in 2006 that greatly influenced their decision to fully embrace the right path of Judaism.
But prior to the start of the lengthy discussion, some gift items consisting of traditional attire and a walking staff, were offered to the American professor on behalf of the association of Jews of Ebonyi State. Indeed, it was so lovely spending the rest of the evening with brothers and sisters. Then after dinner, the brikat hamazon was led by Professor Miles; bringing the long day to an end. Fair enough, we needed the whole rest we can get, because early the following morning it would be time to say bye to the Jews of Afikpo and Ebonyi State in general.
Goodbye Ebonyi State
Everything that has a beginning has an ending. As we woke up that Tuesday morning, it was time to get our stuff together and move to the next state in our tour schedule. Rosh Yochanan Ibe, who was still with us at that moment, no doubt played a key role throughout the visitation across Ebonyi State. He did ensured that our trip around his state was well planned and coordinated. For him, it was also very cool to take Professor William across Afikpo, which is his home town.
5 Things Learned After Visiting Ebonyi State!
Number #ONE: Their Unity Is Golden
As a Jewish travel blogger, and from my little experience touring some states across Jewish Nigeria, Jews of Ebonyi are known for one special thing- their UNITY is exceptional!
Number #TWO: There are about Six existing Jewish Place of Worship in the State
- Adat Emunat Ha Yehudim, Ezzambgo
- Adonai Echad Synagogue, Onueke
- Beit Yaakov, Abakaliki
- Jewish Faith Congregation, Onueke
- Ohr Hakodesh Kehillah
- T’Pheret Israel Congregation, Akikpo
Number #THREE: No Sefer Torah In The State
Unfortunately, even though the state has proven and established itself as one of the best Torah learning and Halakhic center- yet no Sefer Torah anywhere around.
Number #FOUR: More Cantors Relative to Other States
Even though there are very few Synagogues in the state, but yet, they have managed to be able to produce a good number of cantors who are currently leading prayers in several Synagogues across Jewish Nigeria
Number #FIVE: Upcoming Jewish Wedding
Sarah bat Avraham, daughter of the leader of Ohr Hakodesh Kehillah, will be betrothed to Yitzhak ben Avraham, under the chuppah on the 22nd of December 2019. The traditional marriage will be coming up on the 19th of December.
Photo Gallery I
Friends Within The Camp
Professor William Miles has truly dedicated a lot of time and resources following years of research about Jewish Nigeria. I can still recall the Shabbat Hanukkah with Professor William Miles in the garden city of Port Harcourt. After the tour around the South last December, the Franklin-Miles tour to Jewish Nigeria ended in Lagos with a spectacular Shabbat in Adat Yisrael Synagogue. One thing I know about him is his friendly nature, and always full of smiles- which may have been the reason most people have turned his name into Professor SMILES.
Back at the camp in Ezzamgbo, Professor Smiles had two important friends who spoke two languages that always reminds (and connects) him to two very important places, which are:
- Eretz Israel, and
- Up Northern Nigeria where he spent a lot of years
This friends are fluent in Hebrew language (Ivrit) and the Hausa language respectively. The first friend is Nathaniel ben Avraham, a young chazan, and one of the best Hebrew speaking student and interpreter across Nigeria. The second is Naomi, the wife of brother Daniel that picked us from the airport at Enugu. Their time with the American visitor made his stay very entertaining to a great extent.
And not forgetting Baruch ben Avraham, the youth president, for his input in the overall tour planning across the state. The visitation to Ebonyi State is certainly the beginning of many things to come in the near future.
About the Writer: Avraham ben Avraham is a Nigerian Writer, Business Consultant, International Tour Guide and a Jewish Travel Blogger. He is the founder of the Jewish Nigeria Blog (his 2nd blog after the Jewish Standards). His upcoming project is the Jewish Nigeria Online Forum and Parnasa Network (Nigeria). He is a member of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce (New Jersey).
Upcoming Stories On the Jewish Nigeria Blog:
- Exclusive Interview with Kish and Onyinye after their 24 days visit to Eretz Yisrael
- Professor William Miles and The Jews of Akwaibom
- Professor Williams Takes Shmuel, Arriella, and Andrew to Gihon Hebrew Synagogue Abuja.