“Next Year in Y’rushalayim” is one of the most enthusiastically chorused statement in some of the festival prayer books. But then, imagine if in the real sense- one is rather saying “tomorrow in Y’rushalayim”- the shiver of excitement, certainly, would be unbearable! This was exactly the kind of joy expressed by Kish and his wife on the eve of their departure to the Holy Land. For the couple, it would be their first time travelling to Israel. And as the trip coincided with the Jewish High Holidays- the expectation was going to be unprecedented, no doubt.
Back here at home, everyone were so excited to hear that they had entered into the Land. The purpose of the visit, which included other things, was also meant to strengthen the network between Israel and the Nigerian Jewish communities. Nevertheless, the interesting thing about this maiden visit is the fact that the couple travelled as typical Jews attending the Pilgrimage Festival. This is not a very common situation or occurrence for most Africans intending to make these trips identified as Jews.
However, upon their return back to Jewish Nigeria, members of Adat Yisrael Synagogue were thrown into a wild jubilation as Kish and Onyinye brought back two kosher Sifrei Torah from Israel! It was a triumphant return, setting a solid historic record, and making it a tale that would be recounted many years from now.
About two weeks after their return, Jewish Nigeria Blog sat down with Kish to find out how the entire trip played out. The unique thing about this, looking back at the history of Nigerian Judaism, this will be the very first time, a Nigerian Jew has traveled to Israel to purchase the Sefer Torah!
Question Number #One: Why was it so important for you to go to Israel? And, of course, you would have gone alone, but you choose to travel alongside with your wife, Onyinye?
The land of Israel is the major pillar of our Jewish Faith. As practicing Jews, it ought to be one’s life-long yearning and vision to visit Eretz Kodesh. And most importantly to be in Jerusalem- as well as the Kotel (the remaining relics of the Temple). The festival of Succot is also one of the best period to be in the Holy Land. Till today, the overwhelming memories of our visit is still fresh in my mind.
How can I go alone without my wife? What will I be telling her when I return? There are certain things about the women and children which she is in the better position to learn. But, which I could overlook or fail to observe, if I had eventually gone alone. Besides, there are things which I could forget about and the only person in the position to remind me is my wife. The same thing is also applicable to her as well. So, travelling together made things more balanced for both of us. Indeed, it was one of the best trip we have embarked on as a couple, which was also aimed at strengthening our Jewish life.
Question Number #Two: Everyone understands the difficulties encountered by the Nigerian Jews proceeding to the Holy Land as Jews. In your own case, it appears you may have broken the record. How did this happen?
In the actual sense, I am not really aware of that fact because I may not have seen any Nigerian Jew who approached the Israeli embassy to obtain visa. Perhaps, most of us may have been carried away by mere sentiments.
However, even though it may be correct, but I wouldn’t say in my case that I broke any record whatsoever. I only tried and then achieved it, on the grounds of being an active student of the Kabbalah Center International. Even though I have been a student of Kabbalah since around 2008, the whole turning point and build-up to this trip was when a Kabbalah center was recently opened around my area.
Then along the line, the opportunity to go to Israel for the festivals came out and without much effort, Onyinye and I were accepted to be part of the group that would be going to Israel. Through the assistance of the Kabbalah Centre we got the invitation, and we got the visa a day after the interview at the embassy in Abuja. So, we would be saying- all thanks to the Kabbalah Center that gave us this great opportunity to fulfil our Jewish dream of stepping foot in Israel, in our life-time.
Question Number #Three: We all dream of stepping foot on Israel one day, and even in some of our festival prayers- “Next year in Y’rushalayim” is often chorused aloud. Anyway, am just curious to learn how the experience was like for both of you, the day you arrived in Israel.
Such an emotional moment I still recalled, and I needed to control myself (to avoid causing a scene) because I felt like kissing the ground the moment we got out of the airplane. Then as we approached the immigration at the airport, I sighted a huge mezuzah as big as two bottles of kosher wine joined together- and then I kissed it very well.
This singular act turned around to our favor because as we got to the immigration desk- we were giving additional 30 days to stay in Israel. The officer was thrilled as we identify ourselves as Nigerian Jews who came all the way from Western Africa for the feast of Rosh Hashana and Succot. Still looking so surprised about the counter with probably the first Nigerian Jews she has meet, then I did asked her to say the shehecheyanu- and she obliged and made the bracha right before me. Everything that happened there at the airport simply meant that our visit to the Holy Land was going to be quite exciting and memorable, even beyond what we expected.
Question Number #Four: Let’s get the record straight. What was the first thing you did in Israel? Where was the first place you went to as well?
We went straight to the Cinema Hotel estar in Dexenburg center at Tel Aviv. It was around 5:30 AM when we got there, and were told that the check-in time was supposed to be around noon. The lady at the reception helped us to secure our luggage and then assisted us to locate the kabbalah Centre which was about three minute walk away.
When we got there, there was nobody there. So we decided to wait for a couple of minutes, and then sat down on a bench outside. My wife who was feeling so tired from the long flight rested her head on my laps and slept off.
Then a man showed up on a bike, and as he removed his helmet, I saw his kippah- then approached him. After introducing ourselves to him, he welcomed us into the centre, where we eventually joined others who came that morning to say the shacharit.
Question Number #Five: The timing of your travel coincided with the High Holidays, beginning from the Rosh Hashana. In which Jewish Synagogue did both of you celebrated the New Year festival. Tell us about the people you met there. Were they friendly as well? How was the reception in general?
The feast of Rosh Hashana and part of the Succot festival were observed at the Kabbalah Centre International in Tel Aviv. The community was made up of both Israelis and people who came from across the globe. This is usually an annual activity, so it was wonderful for Onyinye and I to be there and to enjoy the whole prayers.
The people we met there were willing to help you. In fact, they want to help you more than you want to ask for the help. That the help does not come is simply because you have not said anything. Even sometimes, they anticipate what you want to ask and start doing it for you before you ask for it.
They are always looking out for what to do because the main focus of the Kabbalah centre student is receiving from above to share. So, they’re always looking for an opportunity to share good things with you. It’s a mitzvah to help, so everybody is looking for a chance to help you irrespective of your color or race. What matters mostly to them is your soul which is the same in every person, and besides, in olam haba- all our soul will be in one form without any classification.
I was overwhelmed because anything I asked for was attended to appropriately, to my satisfaction.
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Question Number #Six: And then the fast of Yom Kippur, which came up as the next feast and known as the holiest day for Jews throughout the year. Were you still at Tel Aviv at the time of Yom Kippur?
My wife and I did the Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv as well, because one of my major reasons of travelling was to see how these practices are done by students of kabbalah. The Kabbalah centre follows the teachings of Ari who is a powerful kabbalist teacher. There are many things which the regular Jewish people pay little attention to, but which rather is highlighted by the kabbalah pople. Therefore, since it was important to learn a whole lot of their practical things, I decided to remain there at Tel Aviv.
This also gave me a lot of insight how most of the prayers are conducted- the silicot- and the blowing of the shofar- and many other things. Most importantly, I can recall that after the fast of Yom Kippur which finished around 7PM, I realized that I was looking strong enough to withstand another four additional hours. The whole experience and the prayer patterns were truly amazing.
Photo Gallery I
Below are collections of some of the memorable moments in Israel- which included the visit to the hanging tree, and the entrance into machpelah, which is the spiritual gateway to the garden of Eden.
Question Number #Seven: Could you give us a list of all the other synagogues visited throughout your stay in the Holy land, and their specific location? What interest you in each of these place of worship?
During our twenty four days visit, we had three three main Shabbat, and there were indeed something unique and unforgettable in each of the synagogues we went for the prayers:
The first one was at Tel Aviv in the Kabbalah Centre- and I must say that the joy and happiness witnessed there was absolutely wonderful. But unlike in our traditional ways of worship here in Nigeria where there are less movement, no hitting on the tables, and no instruments used- I saw the chazzan leading the prayers and hitting his hands on the bimah and making melodic sounds to stir up everyone and make the whole worship more lively. People can also be seen dancing around the bimah cheerfully.
The next Shabbat we had was close to the Kinneret, which is the Sea of Galilee. In the hotel we lodged there was a synagogue. The Kabbalah Centre had actually rented the synagogue for the Shabbat. I was opportune to meet with Michael Berg, the son of the owner and founding father of the Kabbalah Centre International, and also the rosh of the Kabbalah Centre.
It was such a colorful moment to witness a renewal of vow of a 30 years old marriage by a Jewish couple about two hours before the beginning of Erev Shabbat.
I remember Michael Berg saying that in the spiritual world- every prayer said all over the world on Erev Shabbat must first be gathered to the Kinneret before ascending into the heavens. Hence, we were very fortunate to be the people making prayers at this important location and hence acting as the guardian of all the prayers passing through the Kinneret that evening.
The shacharit was held at the synagogue in the Setai hotel. It was also a beautiful experience and everyone showed maximum respect to every other person, no matter how rich anyone was.
The other Shabbat we observed was at Modi’in upon Gadi’s invitation to Shivti Israel synagogue where he worships along with his family. It was a newly built synagogue with a touch of modern structure. Their ark is constructed in a special way, slightly different from the other conventional ark I have seen. It was built in an artistic way and looks very attractive.
The people were very nice and welcoming. I was given the chance to speak for about five minutes in front of the congregation about the Igbo Jews of Nigeria. I was also given the honor of Aliyah of opening the ark and bringing out two sifrei Torah, and handing them over to the brothers who took it to the bimah. That day was a chol Hamoed.
The Shabbat of the Simchat Torah was at Netanya, at Israel Hzir Synagogue where Dani Limor worships. It was also another memorable and wonderful experience to meet interesting community of Israeli Jews. Before our arrival, Dani had arranged a meeting with his rabbi and by the time I got there, two other rabbis joined in the discussion which appeared as an interview. The origin of the Jewishness of the Igbo people was the subject of the lengthy talk.
I did tell them how our ancestors exhibited similar traditional practices with what is found in the Torah and around present day Israel. And when they asked further questions, I had to show them some video clips from the jubilation across Jewish Nigeria as Peretz ben Kish was called to the Aliya. When they saw the photo of me and my son wearing the tefillin, they were thrilled to notice that I was truly one of them judging from the Ashkenazi style of putting the teffilin. At the end, they did expressed their dissatisfaction and frowned at the delay which surrounds the recognition of the Jews of Nigeria till today.
At the erev Simchat Torah celebration, I was given the honor of carrying the sefer Torah several times around the bimah.
Question Number #Eight: While you were away touring various sites in the Land, some of us back here at home followed your live broadcast on Facebook- can you tell us everything about the Kotel, which is also referred to as the wailing wall or the western wall. What’s the spirituality about praying at the Wailing Wall?
Visiting the Kotel was another accomplishment in our life-time as a couple. The significance of this great location to the entire Jewish people is quite enormous because the Kotel is the only remaining relics left after the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem. Hundreds and thousands of visitors come to the Wailing Wall to make prayers- and there is a general belief that prayers made here ascend straight into the heaven.
But honestly, by the time I got there- the excitement of being at the western wall overwhelmed me as it was a marvelous sight to behold- and initially, I simply couldn’t hold myself together to say any particular prayers. But good enough, I was carrying tons of prayer request handed over to me by some brothers and sisters in Nigeria, so I had to just put the papers into the crevices in the Wailing Wall.
Nevertheless, I visited the Kotel three times during our stay in Eretz Israel. I was opportune to join some Jews there to say the Shacharit, Mincha, and Maariv at different times.
Question Number #Nine: Tell us about your visit to the cave of the Patriarchs, also known as Machpelah, at Hebron. What inspired you most about this extraordinary Jewish site?
Hebron has been known as the first city in Israel. One of the most sacred places in the planet is located right there at the city. The cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, referred to as Machpelah, is the reason there is a lot of holiness attached to this site. Four prestigious couples are buried there at the Machpelah:
- Adam and Eve
- Avraham and Sarah
- Isaac and Rebecca
- Jacob and Leah
According to the Zohar, the cave of Machpelah is the gateway to the Garden of Eden. Adam was the first man to recognize the power of the cave, where he and his wife were later buried. Then Avraham later stumbled upon the cave, discovered the power and the uniqueness of the cave, and then purchased it.
We were also told the story of a Turkish king who mistakenly dropped his sword into the cave- and after his men died while attempting to descend into the cave and retrieve the sword- he threatened to kill everyone in the town! At the end, it was a Kabbalistic Rabbi, Avraham Azulai, who eventually entered into the dreaded cave and finally saved the day. But unfortunately, he died seven days after this encounter.
Question Number #Ten: Am sure there are other important Jewish Sites and monuments visited as well. Give us their names and the significance of these location to the Jewish people.
Back in Israel, we visited quite a lot of places too many to mention at the moment. But let me just give a list of some of the places:
- Ha Idra raba- which is where the 24 students of Ari wrote the Zohar
- The Burial site of Rabbi Akiva
- The resting place of Rabbi Tarphon
- Ba’al Shem Tov forest
- Sefed- where Rav Philip Berg (the founder of the Kabbalah Centre) was buried.
- The burial place of Rabbi Avraham Brandwein who was buried close to his teacher, Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag.
- The burial place of Rachel in Bethlehem.
- The resting place of Rabbi Yossi of Pekins at the Ba’al Shem Tov forest.
- The site where Rabbi Meir Bal Hanes was laid to rest.
To the people in the land, these sites are strong connections to light and an effective prayer spots for the Jewish people who come from all over the world at different times of the year. The general belief is that prayers made here are likely to be answered- drawing merits from the soul of these powerful and righteous men who lived extraordinary life while on earth.
Question Number #Eleven: I don’t know if you already know, but, it’s on record that no Nigerian Jew has ever travelled to Israel to purchase a Sefer Torah. Then surprisingly, out of nowhere somebody just got to Eretz Israel, and did managed to Purchase not just a Sefer Torah, rather two Sifrei Torah. How did you and Onyinye manage to do this?
Listen to the YouTube below for this part of the interview with Kish, and his message to the Nigerian Jews.
Question Number #Twelve: Am sure you met up with new friends and some already existing friends in Israel. What was it like meeting folks you already know, and the new ones you recently met, interacted and collaborated with?
From the onset, the trip to Israel was certainly going to be a very interesting trip. Because, in the actual sense, it wasn’t really going to be a totally unfamiliar ground with unfamiliar people. Our home here in Lagos has played host to some of our Jewish guests from Israel, Europe, and America. So, moving to Israel- we were already looking forward to seeing a couple of friends we already know:
- We spent a great deal of time with Gadi Bentley at the Kotel and during out visit to Modi’in where we kept one Shabbat.
- On Simchat Torah, we were with Dani Limor who is a frequent visitor to Jewish Nigeria, and a very important friend to African Jews generally.
Other new friends include:
- Michael Berg, owner of the Kabbalah Centre International
- Abraham Lincoln, Chairman of the Black Jews Association in Israel
- Mr. Arie, one of the executive members of the Black Jews Association
- Yonathan Long, a soffei stamp who helped us to examine the authenticity of the Sefer Torah we purchased.
- Rahamin Havi, our Israeli contact for Kosher Sefer Torah in the Torah Centre of the World.
Also, a number of other people too numerous to mention including rabbis.
Question Number #Thirteen: Succot is known as the Pilgrimage Festival, and both of you spent the whole 7 days feast in the Holy Land. What was it like generally- building of the Sukah, eating in the sukkah, sleeping, in the Sukah, etc?
The festival of Succot is one of the best times to be in the Holy Land. Just like the Hannukah celebration and Pesach, Succot being also a week-long festival- gave us an ample amount of time to witness how Jews in Israel observe the feast. Sticking with the Kabbalah Centre group, we spent the larger part of the festival at Jerusalem.
How interesting to see that almost every Jewish home in Israel has a sukkah. In the spirit of the Festival, home owners often express so much joy when people come around into their sukkah. In one occasion, while we were walking towards the Temple site in Jerusalem as a group, we stumbled into a rooftop home and entered into a sukkah. Even though we didn’t know the owner of the house, we were given the most welcoming reception. Generally, the festival is the best time for welcoming and attending to friends and strangers into one’s home. Like you already know- it is a mitzvah to welcome strangers into your home during the feast of Succot.
Question Number #Fourteen: On your return to Nigeria, I watched the street procession carried out by members of Adat Yisrael Synagogue, welcoming the two Sifrei Torah to the Knesset. Indeed, it was one of those historical moment for the Nigerian Jewish community. After planting in the Sifrei Torah into the ark in Lagos- within yourself, did you feel satisfied to have achieved this for the Nigerian Jewish community?
Till this moment, the whole story is still fresh in my mind. Right from the moment of conveying the two sifrei Torah on the airplane, seated next to me, till the plane touched down at the airport in Lagos. Some of our brothers came as a delegate to welcome the Torah. The chairman of the synagogue (Solomom Ahukanna) and Barrister Ebi led the 7-man delegation. My wife and I were delighted to see brother Yitzchak ben Peniel, Avraham ben Avraham, and our kids- Peretz and Rachel as part of the group.
As our vehicle closed in on the Synagogue, the rest of our members were already on the open street to give the Torah a rousing welcome. It was one of the happiest moments in my life, seeing members of my community staging a street procession in honor of the greatest gift given to the children of Israelites.
Then, the moment the two Sifrei Torah were placed into their new home, in the ark in Lagos, I felt my mission to Israel has been accomplished. To this, I’d say Baruch Hashem. In my brief address to the happy congregants, I told them that the Light has finally come into Nigeria.
Todah rabah, Kish and Onyinye for taking your time to talk to Jewish Nigeria Blog about your fantastic maiden trip to the Holy Land. The prayers in the mouth of every Jew in your community and across Jewish Nigeria- is for Hashem to exceedingly bless you and your lovely wife and family- for the effort to bring into Nigeria -the gift of the Sifrei Torah- so that light will continue to shine abundantly into the Jewish communities in Nigeria.
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, Jewish Nigeria Directory, and Parnasa Network (Nigeria). He is a member of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce (New Jersey).
Upcoming Stories On the Jewish Nigeria Blog:
- Professor William Miles and The Jews of Akwaibom
- Professor William Takes Shmuel, Arriella, and Andrew to Gihon Hebrew Synagogue Abuja.
- Upcoming Jewish Wedding in Aba, Abia State (Eastern Nigeria)