By: Avraham Ben Avraham

The purpose for the creation of the Youth Shabbat is to foster unity among all the Jewish congregations in Nigeria. Since its inception in 2015, the movement has continued to grow, expanding across four regions in the country, and with eleven Knessets hosting the event at different times so far. Usually, according to the modus operandi, the host synagogue plays a significant role in the welfare of the visiting youths throughout the 3 days: beginning from Friday to Sunday when the visitors are expected to start departing to their respective states. But however, the financial burden that is associated with hosting (at times) over a hundred people, could be one of the major reasons the movement has recently fell short of its initial expectations.

When this National Youth Movement was formed about five years ago, the initial intention was for the Youth Shabbat to be held once every two months. Even though this target hasn’t been fully achieved- the best record so far is five (per year), while throughout last year, only two were held! This development, apart from the fact that a youth seminar was also held last year, was simply because most of the supposed host synagogues declined due to some reasons, when it got to their turn of hosting the event.

Following the already drawn-up rotational calendar, in the event that a state is unable to host the youth Shabbat, it is common to see another state coming to the rescue by hosting the said Shabbat.

History Of The National Youth Shabbat

The whole idea was first brought forward by Gadi Bentley in 2015 during one of his early visits to Jewish Nigeria. Gadi, a young and vibrant Israeli, has been visiting Nigeria several times- developing a strong relationship with Jews of Nigeria, especially the youths. His interest in the unity and growth of the Jewish congregations was what compelled him to introduce the concept of the Youth Shabbat, to be held round the year, from one state to the other. Hence, the National Youth Movement was launched in Anambra State (Eastern Nigeria) at the Igbo Jewish Community Synagogue in Ogidi.

Since then, eighteen Youth Shabbats have been successfully held across Jewish Nigeria. Taking a look back into history, here is how the movement has been sustained in the last four years.

  1. Anambra State (2015): Ogidi- Igbo Jewish Community Synagogue
  2. Abuja FCT (2015): Jikwoyi- Gihon Hebrew Synagogue
  3. Enugu State (2015): Obolo-Afor- Ark of Hashem Synagogue
  4. Rivers State (2015): Port Harcourt- Aaron Hakodesh Knesset
  5. Ebonyi State (2016): Ezzamgbo- Adat Emunat Ha Yehudim
  6. Lagos (2016): Festac- Olam Yisrael Synagogue
  7. Imo State (2016): Owerri- Association of Jewish Faiths
  8. Akwaibom (2017): Ukanafun- Yavneh Synagogue
  9. Delta (2017): Ughelli- Delta Association Of Jews
  10. Abia (2017): Aba- Beth Brit
  11. Anambra State (2017): Uli- Shema Yisrael Synagogue
  12. Abuja FCT (2018): Jikwoyi- Gihon Hebrew Synagogue
  13. Enugu State (2018): Obolo-Afor- Ark of Hashem Synagogue
  14. Rivers (2018): Port Harcourt- Yisharim Synagogue
  15. Ebony (2018): Ezzamgbo- Adat Emunat Ya Hehudim
  16. Anambra State (2018): Uli- Shema Yisrael Synagogue
  17. Lagos State (2019): Festac- Olam Yisrael Synagogue
  18. Akwaibom (2019): Ukanafun- Yavneh Synagogue

From the statistics, it clearly appears that Anambra State has hosted more times than the rest of the States. But in the twist of recent events, Lagos State just equaled that record as they unlocked the new phase in the National Youth Movement.

Unlocking The New Phase In The National Youth Movement

Adat Yisrael Synagogue has become a formidable Jewish ground, a center for Torah studies and halakhah, as well as home of Torah scrolls in Nigeria. This Lagos State Knesset, located along the canal view drive off ago bridge, is also a connecting link to multiple international Jewish organization networks. In 2018, Rabbi Wayne Franklin and his tour crew had gone beyond Abuja, discovering existing, new, and emerging Synagogues in Southern Nigeria. And at the end, the Franklin-Miles tour to Jewish Nigeria ended in Lagos with a spectacular Shabbat in Adat Yisrael Synagogue. No doubt, with such a fantastic management team on ground, no wonder the synagogue is known as one of the best in the country.

Just recently, the synagogue become the twelfth Knesset to host the yearly National Youth Shabbat, for the first time since the youth movement was launched at the Igbo Jewish Community Synagogue in Ogidi. Interestingly, the 19th National Youth Shabbat was tagged “unlocking the new phase” by the youth organizers. According to Orah bat Yokhanan, the first agenda of the youth Shabbat since its formation has been to bring the youths together, and now that this long term goal has been achieved, there’s need to set another new goal, which would strengthen the platform by unlocking the new phase in the youth movement.” Beginning from now, the next focus should be on practical implementations designed to take the youths from where they are currently, to where they want to be in the future.

Adat Yisrael Synagogue: Host Venue of the 19th National Youth Shabbat

A typical youth Shabbat begins from erev Shabbat, and ends on Sunday afternoon after the general meeting to discuss the challenges so far, and proffer effective solutions needed to keep moving. The hosting synagogue, most often, takes greater responsibility in terms of feeding and accommodating the visitors. Prior to the big weekend, a team of the organizing officials were in Adat Yisrael Synagogue for Shabbat, to gauge the level of preparedness of the host.

Emmanuel and a brother from Kehilat Yisrael Synagogue cleaning the Shul

On Thursday (5th of March), the Peniels (Emmanuel and Yitzhak) from the Igbo Jewish Community Synagogue were the first to arrive, traveling over 500 kilometers from eastern Nigeria. The following day, the final preparation to host the youth got underway in the early hours of the day. Extra measures were taken to direct and keep in touch with some of the travelling guests visiting the Lagos Synagogue for the first time.

While a group of women were preparing the Shabbat meal, the rest of the young men cleaned the interior of the synagogue, setting and arranging extra seats to accommodate the expected number of visitors. Shortly before the Shabbat candle lighting time, a delegation from Anambra State, led by their State-chapter youth president, Benjamin ben Eliyahu, arrived at the Synagogue in high spirits and full of expectation.

Welcoming Shabbat In The Usual Cheerful Way

Shabbat begins with the lighting of the candles by the women in their respective homes or in the synagogue. Generally, it’s recommended to perform this ritual of ushering the Shabbat about eighteen minutes from the actual sundown time for the specific location. In the provision of the law, a man is only permitted to light up the Shabbat candle in the event that no female is around or if the little Jewish girl around has not come of age to say the Bracha properly and eventually light the candles.

Candle Lighting: Rivkah, Hadassah, Orah and Orah Yokhanan

The 19th National Youth Shabbat was flagged off with the lighting of the Shabbat candle by Orah bat Yokhanan and Rivkah marat Nathan with her two little daughters Orah and Hadassah. After this, some moment of time was given for other women and the guests who have just arrived to catch their breath and prepare to join the Kabbalat Shabbat Service.

Chioma, Orah, Ekene, Hadassah, Leah & Oriel

The template followed in the youth Shabbat usually assigns different part of the Shabbat services to youths from different states across the country. Following the already prepared order of service, chazanim from Anambra State are to lead the Erev prayers service, while the evening Kiddush will be said by Lagos, the host synagogue. Most importantly, there was a minyan to welcome the Shabbat and shortly after the prayers, many people were still arriving from other surrounding knessets in Lagos State.

The Proposed Order Of Service

One of the most remarkable features of the youth Shabbat is the way every State is included in the order of service. With this all-inclusive approach, different part of the Shabbat service are led by representatives from each of the States, who are most likely to be chazanim or individuals well conversant with the prayer patterns and fluent in reading Ivrit. Although, whether (or not) a state is not present for the youth Shabbat, a typical order of service doesn’t seems to exempt anyone. But in the event of no representative from a particular state, then the slot would be allotted to representatives from another state.

Inside the Ark in Adat Yisrael Synagogue

Below is the proposed order of service (Kabbalat/Sacharit) for the 19th National Youth Shabbat, held in Lagos:

FRIDAY, 6th of March

  1. Kabbalat Shabbat- Akwaibom State
  2. Maariv for Shabbat- Anambra
  3. Kiddush/Brikat Hamazon- Lagos State

SATURDAY, 7th of March

Shacharit Starts: 7:30AM

  • Karbanot/Pesukei De-Zimra- Rivers State/Imo Sate
  • Blessing of the Shema/Amidah- Ebonyi State
  • Torah Service- Lagos/Anambra
  • Musaf- Abuja
  • Kiddush/Brikat Hamazon- Delta State
  • Introduction by the youths, Address by the Rosh and other speakers, Study, and Shabbat Rest

However, unfortunately, representatives failed to show up from three states out of the ten states in the entire order of service.

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Uniting Jews Through The Corridors Of Ascending For Aliyah

With a hall filled with over seventy worshipers, it was definitely going to be a remarkable experience for the congregants of Adat Yisrael Synagogue. The beauty of the youth Shabbat is usually the fact that the youths are allowed to lead in most of the prayers. These young cantors who have proven themselves beyond every doubt, their readiness to propel Judaism into the future- are truly the backbone and the pillar of continuity. Hence, the reason the overall intention is aimed at creating stronger bonds across Jewish Nigeria through the National Youth Shabbat Movement.

After the karbanot/Pesukei De-Zimra, two representatives from Ebonyi State ascended to the bimah and continued the prayers. At another point, another chazzan from Beit Yaakov (Abakaliki, Ebonyi State) took over and led the service up to the point of the Amidah prayers. Then, for the Torah service, the officiants were a combination of youths from Lagos (the host synagogue) and Anambra State. The following chazanim coordinated the proceedings during the Torah service:

  • Chayim ben Yokhanan (Lagos)
  • Yitzhak ben Peniel (Anambra)
  • Emmanuel ben Peniel (Anambra)
  • Benjamin ben Eliyahu (Anambra)
Shlomo ben Nomeh, Emmanuel, and Chayim ben Yokhanan

Prior to the reading of the parashat (tetzaveh) of that week, we witnessed a joyous celebration as two Sifrei Torah were removed from the ark. Since it was the Shabbat (Zachor) before Purim, an additional weekly Torah reading (Deuteronomy 25: 17-19) would be read from the second Sefer Torah. The ark was opened by two youths from the host synagogue (Obinna ben Nicholas, and Gideon), while the honor of carrying the Torah to the bimah was given to Kish ben Onyia (leader of the host Synagogue) and Shlomo ben David (Chairman of the Synagogue). For over 20 minutes, the youths carried the Sifrei Torah (about, one by one) and danced around. It was such an amazing moment and the women were screaming in joy on top of their voices, filled with an uncontrollable surge of admiration for the Sefer Torah, which is the true symbol of Judaism.

Rinah (Imo State) speaking to youths from other parts of Nigeria during a meeting

Normally, there are seven aliyot during the shacharit service, and the three at Mincha to usher in the reading for the coming week. The routine for ascending to Aliyah is truly unique- as the person called up would say the bracha before/after the reading, shake hands, take a position at the bimah, and only replaced after the next person called up completes the same procedure. Obviously, unity is achievable, by bringing a group of people together, into one pattern of doing a particular thing. The aliyot were given to different states, as a way of bringing everyone together, carrying everyone along, and therefore straightening the unity across Jewish Nigeria.

Welcome Address By Kish ben Onyia, Leader of the Host Synagogue

Interestingly, since most of the aliyot were given to the youths representing several states, how lucky I was to be honored with returning one of the Sifrei Torah to the ark. Each time someone was carrying the Sefer Torah, the whole crowd is thrown into excitement and dancing around in circles, for a couple of minutes. The tiny bells on the crown on the Torah made continuous sound as the Sifrei Torah made its way back to the ark.

Barrister Ebi and Kish ben Onyia

Prior to that moment, the dvar Torah was given by Shlomo ben Nomeh, representing the youths in Lagos State. Shlomo, one of the chazanim in the host Synagogue, is known as a dedicated Torah scholar, highly knowledgeable in the subject of Jewish halakhot. He began by stating that everything that happens is not a coincidence- just as how Tetzaveh was the parashat for the National Youth Shabbat held in Lagos. While speaking, he mentioned that one of the key messages from the parashat was meant for the youths. According to him- for the Torah to use several lines of verses to describe Aaron’s code of dressing- then it means that the way we all dress as humans is also important to Hashem. Therefore, for the youths, the choice of dressing ought to be very modest and acceptable both in the sight of G-d and man.

Kish (red cap) during Havdalah service

Still speaking about the youths- the focus of the welcome address by Kish ben Onyia, was centered mostly on their future as youths. Kish, the leader of the synagogue, was the first speaker after the morning sacharit ended. Firstly, he welcomed everyone who had traveled from different parts of the country to grace the 19th National Youth Shabbat. Being the first time in history to host the youth Shabbat in Adat Yisrael Synagogue, he expressed his joy of supporting the Nigerian Jewish Youth movement, which was created since 2015. He ended by saying that the youths are the future of Judaism tomorrow, but what they do today would greatly shape and determine what could be achieved in the years ahead, and by following the right path and trusting in Hashem, the sky would be their starting point.

Photo Gallery I

Kiddush/Brikat Hamazon By The Host Synagogue

After an inspiring welcome speech, it was time for Kiddush, which was done by Kish, on behalf of the host synagogue. Standing in front of the crowd, he said the Kiddush in Hebrew language, as usual. Then followed by blessing and breaking the challah (bread) after everyone had washed their hands. The bread was distributed, starting from the little children to the women, and then the men. Showing honor, especially to children and the women, has become a tradition in the synagogue.

With youths in attendance from 7 states across Jewish Nigeria, there was no other perfect time for introduction if not right there at the tables, just after the Kiddush. So, while this was going on, a delicious Shabbat meal made up of assorted types of food were being served by the welfare committee, under the supervision of sister Mirian Ijomah. From the introduction, the visiting youths, other invited guests and members of the host synagogue became fully acquainted. Indeed, it was such a happy time spent with the youths, making the Youth Shabbat an unforgettable one.

Mrs. Onyinye Onyia, back in Eretz Chodesh

Also, there were two other speakers- two Jewish mothers and working-class women, who had wonderful advice to give to the youths, especially the females among them. Mrs. Onyinye Onyia, the ima of the host synagogue, was the first to speak. Her message focused on how to build a successful home and how to support the family, while striking a balance between motherhood and career. She also mentioned about the importance of some of the kabbalistic prayers, which should be applied at certain times of difficulties, in order to change such worrisome situations into the desirable position.

Cross section of women and children during the youth Shabbat

The second speaker, Mrs. Shmuel from Olam Yisrael Synagogue in Lagos, recounted some of her experience as a young mother since joining Judaism some less-than four years ago.  There were some deep messages, especially for the unmarried ladies, to be drawn from her brief talk. Looking so cheerful as she spoke, she advised the younger women to take note and be observant when their potential partner comes. Because it may come as a wrapped package, filled with lots of uncertainties, but all that would be required, is to pray and receive the package and then unwrapping it gently with time, to see what’s eventually in the stock.

Bringing the long afternoon to its end- we said the brikat hamazon in the most entertaining way. While chorusing the prayer-song, which was led by Kish ben Onyia, there were moments of jumping and singing with cheerfulness. At a point, the crowd broke into a joyful dance as everyone stood up at the concluding part of the Grace after Meal.

 Conclusion Of The Shabbat

Concluding the rest of the Shabbat- this was how the remaining part of the order of service was to be played out:

  1. Mincha for Shabbat- Enugu/Imo State
  2. Kiddush/Brikat Hamazon- Rivers State/Abia State
  3. Further Study, and Songs

Shabbat Ends 7:30PM

  • Maariv/Conclusion of Shabbat- Abuja/Ebonyi State
  • Havdalah- Akwaibom State

Although, unfortunately, not every state had representatives on ground for the 19th National Youth Shabbat. Which was the reason I missed the usual musical Havdalah the (Akwaibom) Jews are known for! This, I experienced during the National Youth Seminar, and during a visit to Beit Ha’arachman: discovering 9 Interesting Things about this Akwaibom Knesset everyone should know. So, in the absence of the youths from Akwaibom, Yitzhak ben Peniel, from Anambra state, conducted the Havdalah service, separating the Shabbat from the new week.

The Song “Adon Olam” performed by Jewish Nigerian Youths

List of Synagogues That Attended The Youth Shabbat In Lagos

  • Adat Yisrael Synagogue– Lagos
  • Alef Synagogue- Anambra State
  • Brit Olam Synagogue- Enugu State
  • Beit Eri- Festac, Lagos
  • Beit Yaakov- Presco, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State
  • Gihon Hebrew Synagogue– Jikwoyi, Abuja
  • Igbo Jewish Community Synagogue- Ogidi, Anambra State
  • Kehilat Yisrael Synagogue- Burknor, Lagos State
  • Ohav Shalom Synagogue- Awo Omamma, Imo State
  • Olam Yisrael Synagogue- Festac, Lagos
  • Tana Debei Eliyahu Synagogue- Lagos State
Aleinu- Morning prayers on Sunday, 3rd day of the youth Shabbat

The General Meeting At The End

Typical of every youth Shabbat, whether in the state or National level, there is always a general meeting at the end to discuss some of the challenges so far, and then make suggestions how to move things forward for good. There is also a form of sporting activity to keep fit, just like at the 4th Ebonyi State youth Shabbat that surpassed previous editions with visitors gracing the event from other regions across Jewish Nigeria. But however, due to the absence of a nearby football field around, the youths in Lagos rather opted to perform and record a song to mark the 19th National Youth Shabbat.

Yitzhak ben Peniel speaking during the general meeting

After the song recording, which was broadcasted live on Facebook, it was time for the general meeting. That Sunday, being the 3rd day in the youth Shabbat, the day began with a morning prayer, led by Shlomo ben Nomeh (Lagos State) and Benjamin ben Eliyahu (Anambra State). While the young boys were praying, the ladies were busy preparing breakfast for everyone, which was served hot after the shacharit, prior to the start of the meeting.

The meeting, which was aimed at understanding the theme of unlocking the new phase, and presided by Shimon ben Avraham (Olam Yisrael Synagogue Lagos), Emmanuel ben Peniel, and Benjamin ben Eliyahu, addressed the following:

Shimon addressing the audience during the general meeting
  • Due to the non-compliance of many states from hosting the youth Shabbat during their official turn- the need to reduce the youth Shabbat yearly calendar from (six times in a year) to (four or three times) was discussed.
  • To continue to make the youth Shabbat more fun-to-be, it’s important to add extra activities to the event to make each outing attractive, and quite memorable.
  • Information about any upcoming Youth Shabbat must be passed to the public at least one month prior to the scheduled date.
  • Since the initial intention (of getting the youths to know each other nationwide) has been eventually achieved, it’s now important to set other long term goals.
  • To avoid the usual total dependence on the host Synagogue, in the area of welfare- suggestions were made for monthly dues payment by all the youths- enabling them to be able to make a meaningful contribution to any state hosting them in the future.
  • The need to register the National Youth Movement as an incorporated body was also suggested.
  • Youths who are gifted with different acts/skills were also advised to leverage the youth Shabbat as an avenue to reach out and spread words about their business skills, to other participants.
  • The call to change state representatives who are currently under-performing was also made.
  • Finally, the upcoming seminar scheduled to hold in Ebonyi State before the end of the year was mentioned as well.  
A review of the 19th National youth Shabbat
Mmesoma- youngest member in the knesset!

The youths have been described as the future of Judaism, not just in Jewish Nigeria, but in the entire world Jewry. Hence, the reason more than enough attention ought to be shown to them at home and in the Synagogue. By equipping them morally, educationally, spiritually, and physically- the great future we all hope would be eventually shaped from today. Simply wishing and knowing is certainly not enough, except through the application of series of actions and activities capable of producing the desired result. Therefore, since one of the major initial target of the Nigerian Youth Shabbat has been gradually achieved over the years, now is the time to set other goals by unlocking the new phase in the Youth Movement.

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). Avraham is also a contributory writer in the diaspora section of The Jerusalem Post Magazine. 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. Judaism Fellowship Initiative (JFI) inaugurates a new board of leaders for the next three years.
  2. Pesach Celebration Across Jewish Nigeria
  3. Pushing towards the establishment of a typical Jewish Nigeria community settlement
  4. The “Book of the Returning Jews of Nigeria.”
  5. The fight against Anti-Semitism

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