Everything has a beginning. Every beginning is recorded in time for reference purposes. And when time grows, it’s important to look at the road so far and understand how to maintain the needed success in the years ahead.Avraham ben Avraham
My journey into the path of rabbinical Judaism can be traced back to about 4 years ago (2016) in Abuja. The Jewish Standards, my first blog was launched that same year to tell stories, both past and current, about Jewish activities mostly in northern Nigeria. After 2 years of successfully doing this- the need to expand coverage of activities nationwide became necessary. So, when a set of visitors came from Temple Emmanuel in Rhode Island, on a mission to tour 4 regions in the country- the opportunity to expand our journalistic coverage had presented itself.
Although there have been quite some visiting American Jews in the past, but most of these tours hardly go beyond Abuja. I was part of the team, playing the role of a national coordinator. And hence became part of the trip going beyond Abuja, discovering existing, new, and emerging Jewish synagogues in Southern parts of Nigeria. The events and stories from this 17 days tour eventually gave birth to a new blog, the Jewish Nigeria Blog. Since then, more fascinating stories about Jewish lives, ceremonies, and other related activities have been featured on the platform making the blog an online resource for individuals and organizations interested to learn more about the Jews of Nigeria.
This anniversary blog post highlights and summarizes the stories we have covered so far.
Franklin-Miles Tour To Jewish Nigeria
Jewish Nigeria is a geographical location of the 80+ Synagogues found in this part of the World. No doubt, with the highest population in the east and southern parts, the majority in the west are found in the Lagos area, while Abuja is home to a large number of Jews in northern Nigeria. The 2018 Franklin-Miles tour began in Abuja, and then touching parts of the south and east, before ending in Lagos.
- “Shabbat Hanukkah” with Professor William Miles in the Garden City of Port Harcourt. In the first leg of the Franklin-Miles tour, Prof. Miles visited three synagogues in the capital of Rivers State, which includes Aaron Hakodesh Synagogue, Yisharim Synagogue, and Meir Elokim Synagogue.
- After Shabbat, the Boston-based American professor visited Abia State the next day. During the visit, two Jewish Synagogues in South-Eastern Nigeria received two mezuzot from Rabbi Wayne Franklin. In Har Shalom Knesset, the professor was decorated in traditional Igbo attire, courtesy of the synagogue management. This marked the end of the 1st leg of the Franklin-Miles tour to Jewish Nigeria.
- The 2nd leg of the Franklin-Miles tour began when Rabbi Wayne Franklin and Mrs. Anne Franklin landed in Abuja on their first-ever trip to the African continent. After Shabbat in Tikvat Yisrael Synagogue and Gihon Hebrew Synagogue, it was time to go beyond Abuja to explore other parts of Jewish Nigeria. Apart from the three Synagogues visited by Miles during the 1st leg, the following other Synagogues were visited:
1. Kehilat Melek Israel
2. Magen Avraham Synagogue
3. Beth Yerushalayim Orthodox Community
4. B’nei Tzadek Synagogue
Also- back in Port Harcourt, there was an inter-denomination seminar held at Yitzhak Rabbin International School, organized by brother Pinchas ben Avraham.
- In Yisharim Synagogue, the double bar mitzvah ceremony was officiated by Rabbi Wayne Franklin. There was a general seminar after the simcha. All through the tour, I was tracking Mrs. Anne as she speaks and interacts with Jewish women in Port Harcourt and Lagos.
- After 14 days of non-stop travel across four regions in the country, the Franklin-Miles tour to Jewish Nigeria ended in Lagos with a spectacular Shabbat in Adat Yisrael Synagogue. On the final day of their visit, the three American visitors decided to catch their breath by going to the beach and taking a drive around the busy metropolis of Lekki.
Interview Series/ Purim/ Inauguration
At the beginning of the new secular year, some private tours around Abia State and Anambra State were made. The intention was to spend some time with the Jewish congregation and learn more about them. Most of the discussion was centered on how they traced their path back to Judaism, their challenges, and the progress made so far.
- I recall talking with rosh Derekyahu during my visit to Har Shalom Synagogue in Aba, Abia State. From our conversation, I learned that his congregation returned to Judaism some three years ago through the effort of two Torah teachers- Nathan and Eben Cohen. Today, services in the Synagogue are conducted in the Hebrew language, and they have an amazing group of enthusiastic young children who love the Torah.
- The following week after the interview, it was time for another fun-filled Jewish festival. The story was covered as sights and sounds of Purim as Jews across Nigeria celebrate the historic victory over Haman at Shushan.
- In Anambra alone, there are over 23 Jewish Synagogues, making the State the most populated Jewish enclave in the country. You can see all the statistics here in 7 Facts Drawn from the Inauguration of Beit Yaakov Haknesset in Jewish Nigeria.
5779 Pesach- 8 Synagogue Visited in 8 Days!
Pesach is a busy time of the year for Jews across the world. Although this was before the 2020 Pesach that was marked mostly at home because of the coronavirus. No doubt, the 5779 Pesach was characterized by many things which the 5780 wasn’t- communal seder nights, Synagogue gatherings and meetings, and freedom of movement without the mandatory travel restrictions.
I recall visiting some congregations in 5 States, from where the Pesach stories were based.
- Flagging off my tour from Rivers State, it was an unforgettable visit to Port Harcourt for the seder night as Jewish communities mark the beginning of Pesach. I spent the first two days of the feast in 3 synagogues in the state. The first seder night coincided with a Shabbat, so there were no photos taken to capture the beautiful moments of the festival.
- The post- sights and amazing moments of 2019 Pesach celebrations across Jewish Nigeria captured the rest of the tour in Anambra State and Delta State.
- And at the end of Pesach 2018: I learned 10 things after visiting two Jewish congregations in Ebonyi State. Apart from having plenty of creative prayer songs, their unity as Jews is golden.
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The Jews of Lagos
The Jews of Lagos make up a greater percentage of the total number of Jewish people found in western Nigeria. All of the 8 Synagogues are located on the mainland. There are 3 places for Jewish gathering in the Festac area. But the visit to Lagos in May 2019 was not for a personal tour across these congregations, but to witness the celebration of love as Eri weds Tamar in one of the most colorful Jewish weddings of our time. It was a joyous moment as Jews from all works of lives, and across the nation gathered to experience the joy of the chuppah. Shortly after this event, we witnessed unbelievable scenes of jubilation as Eri donates a Torah scroll on behalf of Beit Eri to Olam Yisrael Synagogue.
During the National youth seminar held in Onitsha, a Jewish family in Lagos hosted an event on the seminar ground, in front of attendees from over 11 states and guests from Israel and the United States. Such a historic simcha, with jubilation across Jewish Nigeria as Peretz ben Kish is called to the Aliyah. Two months after, in an interview series- I was speaking with Kish and Onyinye after their historic return to Jewish Nigeria. The 24 days trip to eretz Israel produced the first-ever set of twin sefer Torah brought into the country from the holy land.
National Youth Movement
Creating stronger bonds across Jewish Nigeria through the National youth Shabbat movement has been the intention of the grand organizers of the organization. Following a rotational template, the event has been hosted in different states- bringing together the youths to hold Shabbat as a united body. Also, at the state level, youth leaders have managed to organize and build similar youth-Shabbat platforms. Deborah bat Elom reported how the 4th Ebonyi State youth Shabbat surpassed previous editions with visitors gracing the event from other regions across Jewish Nigeria.
In August 2019, the national youth seminar was hosted by its Israeli organizers for the second time. Dani Limor and Gadi Bentley continued in their effort to strengthen the Judaism of Nigeria through Jewish education and learning, targeting the youth-population. At the end of the week-long program, we witnessed love under the chuppah as Gershon & Gilla were joined together in a classic Jewish/Igbo wedding ceremony held in Ogidi.
Other Interesting Stories
Another story that was featured during the August youth program was the visit of Professor William Miles to Jewish communities across Ebonyi State. The tour- which was the 2nd phase of the Miles-Cohen International tour began from Ebonyi State, extending to Akwaibom, and then passing through the ancient town of Arochukwu, before terminating in Onitsha for the youth Seminar.
Before the end of the year, several synagogues joined other communities to mark the Kulanu Across the Globe, celebrating 25 years of excellence. Then, the last story of the secular year captured the sight and sounds of 5780 Chanukkah celebration in eight congregations across Jewish Nigeria. The story began with a Hanukkah breakfast party in Adat Yisrael Synagogue and ended in Yavneh Synagogue, Ukanafun (Akwaibom State).
The visit to Beth Ha’arachman, discovering 11 amazing things about this Akwaibom Knesset featured as the first story in 2020.
Feature Stories during the Pandemic Lock-down
The 19th National Youth Shabbat, which was hosted in Adat Yisrael Synagogue (unlocking the next phase) was the last public event before the ban on places of worship was enforced in Lagos State and some other parts of the country. I was at the seder table with Kish Onyia and family as Jews across Nigeria celebrated Pesach at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The new social distancing rule forbid the gathering of more than 10 to 15 people in an enclosed area, hence disrupting the usual public gatherings.
Before the next feast after Pesach, we also featured a story about 8 things to know about counting the omer as Jews in Nigeria joined the rest of the world in the countdown to Shavuot, featuring Eben Cohen as guest writer. And still reporting from Lagos, fulfilling the mitzvah of brit after celebrating the giving of the law on Shavuot was the next feature story on the blog.
Marking Two Years of Engaging Our Readers with Fascinating Stories
It’s been 24 months of capturing Jewish activities happening and presenting them using a journalistic template to appeal to our readers across the globe. Many lessons were learned, and lots of acquired data in the form of photos, audio, and video files about the Jews of Nigeria (lost tribes of Israel) practicing rabbinical Judaism.
To all our readers, we hope you have been well entertained. Todah raba for sticking with us over the years. But firstly, Baruch Hashem, for the opportunity to serve in the capacity of a writer. On behalf of the blog management, our appreciation goes out to everyone who has freely permitted us to use their data and photos on the blog. And speaking about photos- Kulanu’s support in terms of gadget-donations and funding greatly helped improve the professional development of the blog- making it an online library resource of the lives of Jewish people in this part of the World. Let’s also use this medium to remind our readers that Kulanu is inviting you to a Chanukah Zoom-a-thon to celebrate the music of our partner communities across the globe. The Kulanu in Song Chanukah Benefit will be aired on Tuesday, December 15 at 8 pm EST (2AM Nigerian time, Wednesday morning) and again on Thursday, December 17, at 1:00 pm EST (6 PM Nigerian). Take this opportunity to bring your menorah and celebrate the “nes” or miracle of the strength and diversity of the Jewish people for over two millennia since the Maccabean Revolt. Click on this link https://kulanu.org/zoom-a-thon/ so you can learn more about the upcoming Hanukkah music Festival!
See you again when we’ll be celebrating the third anniversary by this time next year. Shalom!
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 Parnasah Network (Nigeria). He is a member of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce (New Jersey).
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Upcoming Stories On The Jewish Nigeria Blog
- The 20th National Youth Shabbat (Imo State) in Pictures
- Upcoming Project: Siddure For ALL Returning Jews
- Jewish Nigeria Parnasah Network Upcoming Seminar for Youth Empowerment
- Pushing towards the establishment of a typical Jewish Nigeria community settlement
- The rise of antisemitism