Nothing is more honorable than making a practical effort in an attempt to tackle a challenge that has lingered for quite some time with real hopes fading down into the horizon. It’s one thing to recognize a problem, which is usually the first thing. Another thing is knowing the possible solution to get out of the unfortunate situation. And then the third- is taking bold steps to implement actions geared towards changing these repeating patterns. Because if it is not solved, by not having control, while depending on external factors, then the price to be paid could be more years of sitting on the challenges these Jewish communities in diaspora are facing.
It’s the nature of Jews to always try to solve issues by coming up with options to test the waters. And when the outcome becomes a true answer, then success is achieved and the rest is history. The universe around us takes one better step ahead whenever a solution to a problem is created. Simply put it this way- making the world better simply means making challenges disappear by providing a practical solution that would alter the course in the desirable direction. And in likewise manner- solving problems in African Jewish communities in diaspora automatically eases the prevalent burden on the majority of these families of Returning Black Jews.
Returning to Mainstream Judaism- the Religion of Our Early Ancestors
The destruction of the second temple- unlike the aftermath of destroying the first temple, which saw the mass movement of Jews into captivity in Babylon- sent thousands of people from different tribes of Israel into distant lands of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Rather than submit under Roman rule and forced religion, true Israelites choose the freedom of their religious belief and migrated to non-Roman territories on their path of escape. This has been the migratory pattern following the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 by the Roman Empire. And from Europe, the migration to other lands that promises more degree of religious freedom brought the early Jewish settlers into the Americas.
Similarly, there were a couple of migratory routes into tropical Africa, which saw some of the Hebrew Jews settling near the equator, on a vast region of land bordered by the big rivers and on the other side by the Atlantic coast of Western Africa. They became known today as the Igbo Jews of the old eastern region of Nigeria, mostly from the tribe of Gad and Levi. The present-day legendary “Ogbu-Gad” in Aguleri and the ancient kingdom of Arochukwu in Abia State are both tied to the direct descendants of Eri and Arodi, two sons of Gad. These sites have attracted Israeli tourists and American Jewish explorers in recent years.
But the harsh reality of spending over a thousand years in diaspora, and disconnected from the Holy land resulted to the gradual loss of our Jewish identities through the generations that followed. Yet, over a million Igbo as far back as in the 80s continue to keep the Shabbat and festivals across the country, although mostly as Messianic Jews. However, interestingly, many are taking bold steps and returning to Rabbinic Judaism, which is the religion of ancient Israel. In the last two decades, thousands of people have continued to convert from Messianic into mostly the Rabbinic Orthodox movement.
TorahWorld Outreach- Bridging the Gap Over the Years
One of the first bumps on the road for returning Jews is the need to familiarize oneself with the Hebrew characters and learning how to read and understand Hebrew, the original language of the Torah. Another basic thing is improving on the study of the Torah to be aware of the principal halakhic requirements of living as a Jew in the community. Hence, the need for Torah teachers within the Jewish settlements, saddled with the responsibilities of interpreting the Torah for broader understanding.
No doubt, it’s so important at this point to give credit and appreciate what the TorahWorld Outreach has done in the past, and continue doing in almost a decade. Founded by Eben Cohen in 2013 with a burning desire to teach Torah to congregations returning to Judaism across the federation, both in towns and cities, as well as in rural areas with Jewish presence. This non-profit outfit became one of the earliest traveling-tutor moving from one state to another teaching Torah, bringing up young cantors, and teaching several people how to read and pray in ivrit.
A couple of congregations in Igbo land have been recently inaugurated through the effort of the TorahWorld Outreach as the congregants begin their full return to Rabbinic Judaism. Many students have continued to leverage the free TorahWorld Hebrew language learning classes available on Whatsapp and YouTube. And not forgetting to mention that most of the Hebrew songs in usage or several years across the country are musical composition by the founder of the TorahWorld Outreach.
Upcoming Project: The Siddur for ALL Returning Jews
I first heard about the Siddur Project for All Returning Jews over a year ago, and have since then welcomed the idea of locally published prayer siddurim as a worthwhile achievement for the indigenous Jewish community. A successful result will produce not just proudly African-made prayer Siddurim, but offer affordability and availability option to thousands of Jews residing in the country and around. From my experience traveling over 50 congregations across the country- I can say that only 1 or 2 persons, out of every 10 have a prayer Siddur.
There are several reasons for this poor trend, but as the case may be, there are two major facts that practically make the Siddur Project idea exceptionally unique:
- Best subsidized cover price of Siddur in the local market.
- 3rd party support for mass Hebrew language reading campaign for all Returning Jews.
Running into the founder of TorahWorld in November, we sat down and I had him explain to me his passion and enthusiasm about the whole project. As it is important to know the roadmap of the project so far, to fully grasp its primary intent, know what has been achieved, and learn what the next milestone to achieve are.
#1: The Problem- UNDERLAYING CHALLENGES
Without having a prayer Siddur, it becomes a bit difficult bringing Judaism back to the home where you live. The option of using a mobile device is in no way comparable to the physical print, and then what happens on Shabbat when devices are mostly switched off? Yet, approximately only less than 15% own a siddur due to one of the following:
1. Prayer Siddurim not readily available locally for purchase
2. Imported Siddurim not affordable for thousands of worshipers
3. A great number of Returning Jews still cannot pray in Ivrit
4. Countless cases of “lost in transit” and illegal tampering of shipped materials- and loss of entire money spent in most scenarios.
#2: The Solution- PRACTICAL WAY OUT
Practically, there is a way out of every problem, which is the solution at the end. But different problems have a different manner of approach to tackle these underlying challenges respectively. The highlighted list below shows the corresponding solution to all the problems outlined in the preceding section, respectively:
1. Printing standard copyright protected siddurim locally
2. Save cost of overseas shipping & clearing cost- hence making siddurim readily available and affordable as well.
3. The 3-in-one book format is perfect for beginners in Hebrew. A personal Hebrew reading teacher.
4. Looking inward is exceptional. Operating right within the neighborhood guarantees secured, fast, and timely product delivery
#3: The Product- MORE THAN JUST A VALUE
On its website, the TorahWorld Outreach says that it is illuminating the world around with the light of the Torah and Good Deeds. Now clearly, one of these good deeds is working towards creating an indigenous siddur with an unbeatable unique value proposition, such as seen below:
*Affordability and Availability
*Excellent book format (3-in-one), suitable for beginners in Hebrew
*Multi-color book option
*Complete prayer book for Shabbat, festivals, and weekdays
Work-In-Progress & Other Important Updates
The expected projection of the project is to print at least 5,000 siddurim between the next five to ten years of launching its first edition. This milestone will improve the statistics of siddur ownership with affordability and availability as marketplace unfair advantage. And even for the number of newly returning Jews- the siddur will be a valuable tool in their possession, helping them chart their course through Rabbinic Judaism, the oldest religion in the world.
But unfortunately, at the moment, the good news is slightly delayed, as the project seems to require some financial input in the form of aid or contribution, to get to the completion stage. According to the management of the TorahWorld Outreach- the whole write-up have been dully completed over 6 months ago, and preliminary editing currently ongoing as the team keeps pushing to bring this debut locally produced Siddur to the market. But firstly, the work-in-progress has to undergo professional editing and then be sent to the print.
Based on this- the “Siddur Project” for ALL Returning Jews will be seeking financial assistance through crowd-funding and other means through which individuals or groups can make donations towards the success of the project. Donations realized from the funding campaign will be used in printing the first 150 copies of the Siddur. Consequently, the monies realize from sales of these first prints will be used in printing the next 200 copies, without requiring any need for a second donation. By following this strategy, the production circle would be sustained as more people take the advantage of owning a standard prayer siddur.
That thousands of individuals don’t have or own Siddurim is a fact many people already know- two major reasons- affordability and availability. Anyway, thanks to some donors (individuals and Organizations outside the country) in the past who had made it possible for a significant few to have prayer books of theirs today. However, at the moment, purchasing imported siddurim should cost between N15,000 to N30,000 that cannot be afforded by thousands of our Jewish brothers and sisters. Especially at a time like this when folks are trying to get back on their feet after the whole economic setback due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, the “Siddur Project” can act as a true buffer, if the required funding goals are met, and actions taken towards full implementation of the intended purpose for the community at large.
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).
Upcoming Stories On The Jewish Nigeria Blog
- Upcoming Jewish Wedding in Akwaibom State
- Sights and Sounds from Pesach celebration across Jewish Nigeria
- Pushing towards the establishment of a typical Jewish Nigeria community settlement
- The rise of antisemitism
- The Siddur for ALL Returning Jews Funding campaign
Ad: Pesach is coming! Order Our NEW Kosher Wine Made for Pesach!
- Made from 100% Natural Grape Juice
- Zero % Alcohol
- Contains No Sulfites
- 1 Litre Volume
- For Sacramental Use (Approved by the Rabbinate council)
- Produced and Bottled in the United Kingdom
- Call/Whatsapp: +2348038586499 (Mirian) or +2347019110830 (Avraham)
- Price per carton: N10,000 ( SIX bottles per carton)
- Nationwide Delivery Available on demand
Jewissmart Quality Design Tallit Gadol
- Made from 100% wool
- Kosher tzitziot
- Easy to wear
- Easy to Wash
- Price: N10,000 for the Gadol size
- Different Sizes, Custom Designs, and Colors
- Contact phone no/Whatsapp: Baruch +234 810 630 8333
- Nationwide Delivery On Demand
- Other available stocks: kippah of different sizes, color & materials, tallit kittan, Jewish jeweries, books and other Jewish-related products