By: Avraham Ben Avraham

Unknown to a lot of people, especially those under the less-traveled category- Akwaibom is certainly one of the fastest growing areas in the country. This south southern location, with the state name: the land of promise; has no doubt kept its promises of transforming the surrounding environments into a modern settlement pattern. And with a population of over 6 million inhabitants estimate, the flow of development in infrastructure has significantly touched various spots at certain degrees- with credit given to leadership performance.

Sunrise over Beth Ha’arachman Haknesset, Akwaibom State.

But, my recent visit to the State wasn’t to experience the liveliness of the city center- as the Jewish congregation rather decided to pitch their Knesset just at the outskirt of the capital. The trip eventually turned out as an adventure to experience life, far away from a typical crowded town like the one flourishing in Uyo, the commercial capital of Akwaibom. In the midst of thousands of high-rising palm trees some yards across the road, the silence around the Synagogue is mostly broken by vehicles occasionally passing at a distance. The truth is that Jews who are lovers of travel would appreciate the fascinating touch of nature around the vicinity.

Discovering this growing Jewish community, for me, was truly record-breaking. The Knesset structural setting, its people, and their commitment to learning are some of the amazing features one would finds so appealing. In this post, I’ll share nine interesting things about this Akwaibom Synagogue you should know.

Getting The Right Direction To “Beth Ha’arachman HaKnesset.”

Although, this would not be my first time to meet with Jews in Akwaibom State. In August 2019, after the visit of Professor William Miles to Jewish communities across Ebonyi State, we did spent a night at Ukanafun before proceeding to visit the ancient town of Arochukwu (in Abia State). During the stopover at Yavneh Synagogue, the American Jewish explorer only met with the elders since most of the younger congregants were away representing their state in the National Youth Seminar held in Onitsha. How interesting to recall that their musical performance skills was actually the reason the Akwaibom Jews earned the best spot in singing at the Youth Seminar.

Emmanuel Ukpong, Founder of Beth Ha’arachman

Anyway, in your next visit to the state, make out time to pray with the Jewish congregation at Uruan, just outside of Uyo, the capital city. Driving through the center of the town, the right route must follow the popular Oron road, and then linking up with the airport road.

Another route into town is flying in through the airport at Nsit Atai LGA. Hence, if you’re coming by air, then it’s very likely that the exit road from the airport would lead you straight to the Knesset in a couple of minutes.

Interesting Noteworthy Facts About The Synagogue.

After hearing few promising things about the Jewish congregation meeting at Uruan, I decided to go down to the South. But the fact remained- that without detailed information about my destination, it simply meant uncertain expectations and less predictability of events. Going by this, every day came with its own unique adventure, and got to a climax on Shabbat.

At the end of the one-week long visit, it became important to tell a story about life inside this wonderful and quiet Jewish community in Uruan.

9 Interesting Things You Should Know About This Akwaibom Knesset

The location of the Knesset is primarily the most distinctive feature of this Jewish settlement. Situated away from the hustling and bustling of the capital, away from the usual township noise pollution, and basking in the greenness of nature. And besides, how else can one easily measure the affinity of a practicing Jews at first hand? A simple answer lies in whatever compels the person to leave town and join others to pray at the outskirt of town. That is the real Jewish spirit.

Let’s go through the 9 interesting things you should know about Beth Ha’arachman HaKnesset.

Number- #1 Thing: Truly One of the Best Knessets in Jewish Nigeria

Believe me- my travel across Jewish Nigeria have taken me to numerous Synagogues- and Beth Ha’arachman should be the 35th in my list! As a travel guide to foreign tourists, the number of Synagogue visitations doubled during the Miles-Franklin tour to Jewish Nigeria which ended in Lagos with a spectacular Shabbat in Adat Yisrael Synagogue. And more recently, our media tour to cover sights and sounds of 5780 Chanukkah celebration in 8 congregations across Jewish Nigeria, provided us with additional information about Jewish life in this part of the world.

While my intention here is not to make comparison, or directly place a community above another one- but rather, to highlight some of the features that put a place into an admirable position.

Taking a walk into the synagogue, the first thing to notice is the architectural design of the floor. In the 3-dimensional levels- the men stay on the lowest, then followed by the women, and then the Ark standing on the highest height. Apart from the tall pillars that ensured stability, there happened to be a Magen crafted above every door/window post. I lost count, but could remember counting over 50 of them. When I asked why, the chazzan, Ebenezer ben Yisrael, assured me that with a Magen on every entrance, it was therefore impossible for any form of evil to enter into the Knesset!

Synagogue Building and Guest House

At one corner of the spacious compound is the guest house that temporarily accommodates both members and visitors, especially during the Shabbat weekends and other weekdays. From my experience, synagogues with housing/accommodation unit readily have a minyan on ground to begin the Shabbat shacharit as early as 7am. In Uruan, to my greatest surprise, prayers did begin around 6:30AM on the Shabbat day!

Number- #2 Thing: The Music Capital of Jewish Nigeria

During the National Youth Seminar, did it come as a surprise when Akwaibom was announced as best performing musical group? Does it mean that others didn’t put up a tough contest or what? Didn’t the seminar attract over 250 Jews from across Jewish Nigeria, representing about nine states? Well, whatever that means, it’s obvious that clinching to the first position can only result from hard work and experience, especially with very few contesting spots available.

Voice of Y’rushalayim Musical Group.

Arriving at the Knesset on a Tuesday, the answer to my numerous questions were staring right at me. I remember telling the rosh, Emmanuel ben Ukpong, that I clearly never understood why Akwaibom came first, until after realizing they must have been practicing active music, unknown to the public. They have a complete band set, which they play mostly on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

I used to tell myself that the only thing I missed not being a Christian anymore was the music during the service. But alas, I did re-united back with my inner self when I watched the “voice of Y’rushalayim“ group performing on stage in the Knesset. Absolutely, it was nothing like before. You can imagine listening to the closing Alienu declaration being played on a keyboard, and using the guitar to raise the tone, with the sound of different drumbeats floating at the background. When it comes to music, no doubt, the Jews of Akwaibom understand how to arouse and connect the soul to Hashem through it.

Number- #3 Thing: The Brachot Yeshiva Nursery/Primary School

Even though Lagos and Abuja are two massively developed locations in the country, but the lack of any Jewish-owned school around undermines their commitment to Jewish learning for growing children. While tracking Mrs. Anne Franklin as she interacts with Jewish women in Port Harcourt and LagosMechor Chayim and Emunat Hashem Group of Schools, where identified as two small-scale centers for Jewish children education in Rivers State. Moving further east, into Abia State, the Tzion Kids Academy in Aba have also provided a Jewish learning atmosphere for young children.

Assembly Ground- Brachot Yeshiva Nursery/primary School

Joining the league- the latest entrant is the Brachot Yeshiva School owned by the Knesset management. What amazes me is the doggedness of parents to sustain and support the existence and survival of the school. Almost every family in the Knesset have kids enrolled into the school. And like the Knesset, it is located in the outskirt of the town, and hence parents prepare their children to meet up with the early morning bus.

Inside a class in Brachot Yeshiva Nursery/Primary School

With just about a year and some six months into existence, yet, the school is rated as one of the best around its vicinity. Which is the reason it has continued to attract a growing number of pupils who are non-Jews. In all, there are over 50 children, and 5 teachers to guide them through the basic curriculum of nursery/primary education.

Number- #4 Thing: Extending Tzadaka to Their Non-Jewish Neighbors

Charity begins at home. And this is definitely true for Beth Ha’arachman HaKnesset. The pattern represented here is one which focuses on the needs inside, while extending same thing to the outside. What it implies is that interaction between Jews and non-Jews to a certain degree is what keeps the environment going.

Speaking with the leader of the Knesset, Emmanuel ben Yerimyahu– I clearly now understand the inner motivation in those who build synagogue for prayers. Performing such a mitzvah- through the corridors of charity- and hence strengthening the Judaism network in that part of the World. Emmanuel acknowledged that he was compelled to build a house for Hashem first, before he eventually got his own house. His joy today is: seeing the Jews residing around the state capital coming together to pray at the outskirt of the busy town.

At first, it wasn’t so easy settling down into the new community, surrounded by a large span of open country land. But the resilience of the Jews to continue to gather and practice the Jewish lifestyle through prayers, Shabbos and festivals- put them into a firm position in the new surroundings.

Locals fetching water from the Knesset water facility

Today, the Knesset has become a blessing to a good number of people residing around that surrounding neighborhood. These non-Jewish locals have looked up to the synagogue as their source of domestic water supply- and this daily charity activity have been sustained till date. Apart from the Shabbat day, residents are allowed to fetch water from the synagogue to aid their various domestic needs for water.

Photo Gallery I

Number- #5 Thing: A Place for Lovers of Sports

Are you that type of person who loves resonating with their environment, and making the best out of it? Do you appreciate the adventure of exploring a vast area of land, and stretch for as long as you can go? Then if yes, do not forget to come along with your canvas and trainers when visiting Beth Ha’arachaman HaKnesset in Akwaibom State!

Young Jewish Soccer Players

While some Knesset across Jewish Nigeria have proximity to some fascinating hiking routes, but this one in Uruan local government area is absolutely unique and nothing like the rest. Few yards in front of the Knesset is a double-carriage fast speed expressway connecting the airport and the central metropolis. The view at night is such a wonderful sight when the street light come up and illuminates the area with its yellowish brilliance.

Express Road in front of Knesset

Several times I had to take a long walk at night when the traffic is virtually at zero. But if you prefer running in the morning, there’s a pathway for foot traffic on both sides and down the road length. So, are you looking forward to losing some calories, or probably just to improve on your body-system metabolism- then I bet you come down to Akwaibom, the land with numerous promising experience!

Number- #6 Thing: Fostering Unity through the Concept of “Unity Shabbat.”

People are beginning to see the extent of the growth of Jewish lifestyle in the State. No doubt, even the just concluded national youth seminar eventually became a stage for the Akwaibomites to show one of their unique aspects in Judaism- music! During the course of the week-long youth gathering, I couldn’t help but notice the unity among the group from the “land of promise.” They move as a group, do things together, look after each other, and seems to be united through their love for religious music.

However, many of the answers you seek can be found, only when you come to Akwaibom. Answering questions about their superb performance in music, and their strength in unity would only be obvious when one visits the State. The concept of the unity Shabbat is one that I find so interesting- and the reason for their growing sense of operating in a united front. By dedicating one Shabbat every month, and welcoming brothers and sisters from across the length of the state- Beth Ha’arachaman HaKnesset have demonstrated their commitment to strengthen the Judaism network in the state.

In a state with a very small number of Jews relatively compared to the overall population of the entire area- the concept of a unity Shabbat is a recipe for peace and growth.

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Number- #7 Thing: Shabbat Service? What’s so interesting?

Baking Challah for Shabbat

With over 70 synagogues situated across Jewish Nigeria, one begins to understand the quick spread of Judaism in West Africa. A time like this, when the Nigerian Jews are returning in droves as more people realize the real truth and the importance of tracing the path to their ancestral route. How amazing to join brothers and sisters in keeping the weekly Shabbat, which binds us together as Jews.

From one congregation to the other, the Shabbat observance is the same, with only slight variations in the order of prayers to define those who probably follow the Ashkenazi or serphradi traditions. Some also have no room for any form of musical melodies, while for some others, the Havdalah service is a good time for singing, dancing and playing the musical instruments.

My first visit to Beth Ha’Arachman happened to be my first Shabbat in Akwaibom State as well. Filled with lots of expectations- and truly at the end it turned out to become a memorable visit, with the following that made the service unique on its own:

  • Sacharit prayers began at about 6:30AM, with a minyan.
  • Over 70 people in attendance, including women and children.
  • The parashat Vaera for the week was read in the native language (ibibio).
  • Dvar Torah was also given in the native language

Also, at the end, there was a colorful and spectacular Havdalah, with a musical touch and jubilation to mark the end of the Shabbat.

Havdalah in Beth Ha’arachman HaKnesset

Number- #8 Thing: One of the Finest Arks, but No Sefer Torah

The Sefer Torah, is the heritage of the Jewish people, and the most important Jewish document written and preserved in scroll made of animal skin. On Shabbat and Festivals, its usage add more meaning and uniqueness to the Torah service. This pattern of worship is repeated across every Jewish congregation, following the instructions of the sages and the Halakhot.

Inside Beth Ha’arahman HaKnesset

Unfortunately, for most Jews in Africa, especially in Nigeria that has multiple congregations, there are no Sefer Torah in majority of the Knessets. The same thing is applicable to Beth Ha’arachman HaKnesset, even though it has one of the finest constructed arks around the country. However, prior to speaking with kish and Onyinye after their 24 days historic visit to Eretz Israel, and returning with two Sifre Torah- their congregation have been using two practice Sefer Torah for a number of years. But today, it’s entirely a new level in Adat Yisrael Synagogue Lagos.

Thursday (weekly) Torah Service

Certainly, what this means is that- not having a Sefer Torah today doesn’t mean it will remain so all the time. There are basically four stages that can eventually provide the corridor for this feat to be achieved:

  • Building a Synagogue
  • Constructing an ark
  • Using the practice Torah (small Sefer Torah scrolls), and then
  • Acquiring the kosher Sefer Torah

Number- #9 Thing: The Seven year Jubilee would be celebrated this July!

Women group: Feast of Succot 2019

Getting started is one problem solved (providing a place for people to pray to Hashem). And another thing is ensuring to keep moving forward. Because, most times, the hardest part about going forward is ensuring never to look back. Once the formations are made, everyone has to support the growth of the community at large. Which is why the Jewish prayer blesses those who build synagogues, those who come into them to pray, and those who provide things for the service to go on.

#IAmYisraelChai: These Young Girls are proud to be Jews

In July 2020, Beth Ha’arachman HaKnesset would be celebrating 7 years of existence, which is the golden jubilee! All roads lead to Akwaibom State, as everyone is invited to come join in marking this important landmark. Details about the occasion would be in the public domain so all intending guests can plan for the trip ahead of time.

In Summary!

At the end of this beautiful story about the Jews in Uruan, let’s take a quick look at the 9 interesting things to know about Beth Ha’arachman HaKnesset.

  1. One of the Best Knessets in Jewish Nigeria
  2. The Music Capital of Jewish Nigeria
  3. The Brachot Yeshiva Nursery/Primary School
  4. Extending Tzadaka to Their Non-Jewish Neighbors
  5. A Place for Lovers of Sports
  6. Fostering Unity through the Concept of “Unity Shabbat.”
  7. Shabbat Service? What’s so interesting?
  8. One of the Finest Arks, but No Sefer Torah
  9. The Seven year Jubilee would be celebrated this July!
Music is a lifestyle in Beth Ha’arachman HaKnesset

Nothing is as adorable as the gathering of families to pray. And since it’s said that the soul of every Jew is in the synagogue- it means that the result of staying away from the synagogue is spiritual disconnection from the light. The growth of Judaism in Nigeria (as more people continue to return back to their ancestral root) has been sustained through the over 70 congregations across four regions. As the trend grows stronger, more returning Jews would need places of prayers to practice and learn to be devoted Jews. However, for the brothers in the State capital and around: Beth Ha’arachman HaKnesset has not only provided a praying home, but a ground for Jewish interactions, music development, Jewish education for kids, and entrepreneurship empowerment for a number of members.

Shalom!

Avraham Ben Avraham 

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). Some of his upcoming projects include: the Jewish Nigeria Online Forum, Jewish Nigeria Directory, the “Book of the Returning Jews,” and Parnasa Network (Nigeria). He is a member of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce (New Jersey).

Upcoming Posts on Jewish Nigeria Blog:

  1. Adat Yisrael Synagogue Hosts the Next National Youth Shabbat in Lagos
  2. Purim Celebrations Across Jewish Nigeria
  3. Pushing towards the establishment of a typical Jewish Nigeria community settlement
  4. The “Book of the Returning Jews.”
  5. The fight against Anti-Semitism

Photo Gallery II