In a series of events within a short period- all leading to the main Jewish chuppah- the Jews of Akwaibom State had a fabulous time as they hosted brothers and sisters- and friends and families from different parts of the federation. From one occasion to another gathering, the excitement never stopped as well as the high expectations during the build-up to the peak of the whole ceremony. It began with the Jewish engagement party, followed by other cultural visitations, then the Nsoro Ndo (traditional marriage), and ending with the grand celebration of the Jewish chuppah. Interestingly, each of these outings was unique on its own and associated with specific colors to mark the special day. However, what is more remarkable was that these ceremonies put Judaism in the public spotlight, bringing many non-Jews in Akwaibom to the knowledge of some Jewish lifestyles.
The Jews Of AkwaIbom State
Less than a thousand orthodox practicing Jews live in Akwaibom state, with about five synagogues: two of the major ones are in Uruan and Ukanafun, another one in Ikot Ekpene, and two other congregations in the capital Uyo. Generally, one of the commonest things they have is their sense of hospitality and the long history of the state as one of the forerunners of Judaism in the country. Their natural love for music and adoption of songs in their prayer services have also earned them recognition as the music capital across Jewish Nigeria.
The location of the state is at the southernmost part of the federation with an open shoreline with the Atlantic Ocean. For visitors flying into the state through the airport at Nsit Atai LGA, there is a thriving Jewish community just about 5 minutes from the airport, just along the expressway leading to the busy capital of the state. In one of my previous posts, I wrote about 9 things I learned after my visit to Beth Ha’arachman Haknesset in 2020. How honored it was to be invited again as the Knesset celebrated the first Jewish wedding, which attracted tens of hundreds of people in attendance.
49 Stunning Moments As Emmanuel and Sarah Goes to the Chuppah
Wedding unions are beautiful times that point at two obvious things- the first being the creation of a new family of man and woman- and the expectation of bringing forth children- both of which are key factors determining the growth of a Jewish community. And while traditions of marriage ceremonies differ from one community to another across the globe, the chuppah (marriage canopy) is one ultimate feature that connects all the different dots. The choice of styles of chuppah abounds no doubt, ranging from very creative designs and complex designs to even a tallit held by four people overhead the couple. And in most traditions, the chuppah ought to be standing right under an open sky.
In the case of the wedding in Akwaibom of rosh Emmanuel and his lovely bride, Sarah, their marriage was in three parts:
- Engagement party
- Traditional Akwaibom marriage (Nsoro Ndo), and
- The Jewish wedding
Nevertheless, the striking thing in common with these three occasions is the use of the wedding canopy, which symbolizes that the man and the woman will live as one under the same roof, in love and happiness, offering mutual support to one another, and raising their children in the ways of the Torah as well.
Rosh Emmanuel & Sarah’s Jewish Engagement Celebration In Pictures!
On the fourteenth day of February, the stage was set for the engagement party ceremony between Emmanuel Yerimyahu Ukpong (the spiritual leader of Beth Ha’Arachman Haknesset) and his darling bride, Sarah Daniel Sunday. Occasions like this rarely happen here, but when it does, it becomes an opportunity to bask in the excitement and joy of the moment, a memory that would linger for quite a time. The buildup to the great day began on Friday with a high-spirited erev Shabbat, then an explosive Shabbat service, and then a musical havdallah to bring the long day to an end.
The following day, being on a Sunday, the occasion was flagged off with the mincha prayer held at one corner in the venue. Several guests had already arrived before the colorful entry of the bride and groom into the outdoor auditorium of the synagogue. Both of them were accompanied separately the men and women groups respectively. Voice of Y’rushalayim, the biggest musical band in Jewish Nigeria, ignited the whole surrounding with sweet Jewish melodies. Details of the event can be seen in the previous post of Love in Akwaibom: Rosh Emmanuel & Sarah’s Jewish engagement celebration in pictures. The occasion was officiated by Shlomo ben Yaakov, head chazzan of Giyon Hebrew Synagogue Abuja.
Uncontrollable Excitement as Jews Stormed Nsit Ibom for The Usoro Ndo
Usoro Ndo (traditional marriage in Ibibio) usually takes place in the hometown of the bride just as seen in several other traditions across Africa. Different places have their unique ways of marking the occasion, but in the end, what matters is that the things stipulated accordingly by the tradition are done. However, in some instances, some could argue from a religious point of view, giving reasons for exempting a particular traditional ritual. And with the mutual understanding of both sides, there is room for adjustment most of the time.
It was almost evening when members of Beth Ha’arachman Haknesset arrived Ikot …the hometown of the bride to grace the event. Brothers and sisters from other Jewish congregations in Akwaibom were also present to witness the traditional order of the marriage ceremony and show their support for the new couple. The majority of the crowd on the ground were non-Jews from the surrounding environment who had poured out in their hundreds to catch the view of the whole event as it happened.
In a display of strength and manhood, adorned in traditional attires with glittering colors, the men lead the groom into the venue. Flanked on both sides and with a firm grip on their traditional working sticks, which they pointed into the air, they formed a covering overhead the groom as they closed into the chuppa positioned at the center of the stage. Next, it was time for the queen of the day to reveal herself to the waiting crowd. And she did it stylishly with a great report. Unlike the men group, she and the other maidens swished through the venue at a fast pace. Filled with smiles, Sarah continued to wave to the cheering crowd as she moves and took her seat next to her husband.
The opening prayer was said in Hebrew by Ebenezer ben Yisrael, chief chazzan of Beth Ha’arachman Haknesset. Other proceedings went on as planned through the directives of the master of the ceremony who amazed the crowd speaking in the local language. Different groups of people could be spotted from their distinctive outfits including the entertainers who had a traditional music touch to the event. Everything went according to plan and at the end of the day, the full traditional marriage right were done, with both parents and families giving their blessing for the new couple.
D-Day: Stunning Moments from the Jewish chuppah
On the 8th of Nissan 5781, being the 21st of March 2020- all roads lead to Ikot Esu in Uruan LGA of Akwaibom- as Emmanuel and Sarah goes to the chuppah- in what has been described as the wedding of our time. It was not just a time of happiness and merriment alone, but a moment of public display of our Jewish identity to the world around. For most of the invited guests, it was their first time to witness a proper Jewish wedding in Akwaibom state. Our Jewish brothers and sisters from Ikot Ekpene, Ukanafun and Uyo also came in a great number to feast with members of the host Knesset on this speial day. We also had people from Lagos, Abuja, Anambra and Abia State- good friends of Beth Ha’arachman Haknesset. The buildup to the Jewish wedding began on Friday as we gathered to welcome Shabbat while anticipating the ceremony coming after Sabbath.
Pre-wedding photos of Emmanuel Yerimyahu Ukpong and his beautiful bride, Sarah.
Shabbat Preceding the Jewish Chuppah
Usually, it is customary for the groom to be called up to the Torah on the Shabbat proceeding the main wedding day. To make this a special day, there was a sefer Torah for the service- brought from the Igbo Jewish community Synagogue in Ogidi- and conveyed by the Peniels- Emmanuel and his brother Yitzhak. During the mincha service, the groom was called to the Aliyah, and by the time he descended, the men including the youths formed a circle around him and chorused the song “siman tov u-mazal tov, y’hei lanu ul-chol Yisrael.
In the photos above- chazan Shlomo ben Yakoov of Gihon Hebrew Synagogue leading the Havdallah service to mark the end of the Shabbat and ushering in the new week.
Preparing for the Big Day:
Preparation for the big day got underway immediately after Shabbat. In anticipation of tens of hundreds of guests for the wedding the following day- additional seats and canopies were brought to the venue that night, and preliminary arrangements were made that night including electrical connections to ensure the whole outdoor auditorium and the surroundings are well lighted.
Arrival of Groom & Bride
Over a thousand guests were present as Emmanuel took Sarah to the chuppah in what has been described as a wedding of our time. Indeed, it was one of the best moments for the Jews of Beth Ha’arahman Haknesset as they as they hosted friends and families, as well as other Jewish brothers and sisters across the federation.
The long march to the chuppah began when Rosh Emmanuel arrived with the elders of the synagogue flanked on both sides as he drove into the venue in style. Ans still in the same formation, they advanced at a slow pace while dancing to the chuppah positioned at the center of the stage.
A few moments later, the queen of the day stormed into the venue in a loud report- in the company of a group of women, which included younger children dressed in a white gown, while the other group of teenage ladies appeared in a glowing long red gown.
Memorable Scenes From the Rest of the Chuppah Ceremony :
With the groom already positioned at the chuppah and waiting- the bridal train arrived, moving towards the center of the stage as the guests stand on their feet to welcome them. Typical of every Jewish wedding, the first thing the bride does when she gets to the chuppah is to go around the groom several times. It is customary for the bride to go round the groom seven times under the Chuppah. There’re different reasons for this ancient practice; one of which according to the sages- the ritual of going around the man represents a protection exercise against any form of evil spirit.
The sanctification of the bride and groom is that part of the event, during which the bride is betrothed to the groom as he places a ring upon her finger. But prior to this point, the officiating minister, Shlomo ben Yaakov, first raised a cup of wine and recite the following prayers:
Blessed are you, HASHEM, our God, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the wine.
Blessed are You, HASHEM, our God, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has command us regarding forbidden unions; Who forbade betrothed woman to us, and permitted women who are married to us through canopy and consecration. Blessed are you, HASHEM, Who sanctifies His people Israel through canopy and consecration.
At the end of the prayers, the bride and groom each shares from the cup of wine. The next step after the sanctification of the wine is the Betrothal, which is giving the ring to the bride. Usually, there is only one ring in a Jewish wedding, and it is given to the bride by the groom. Before handing over the ring to the Sarah, Rosh Emmanuel recited a prayer from the siddur and everyone responded “Amen.”
Behold, you are consecrated to me by means of this ring in accordance with the Law of Moses and Israel.
Before the conclusion of a Jewish wedding, a Ketubah (marriage contract) usually contains details of the marital obligations between the man and wife. By signing the contract he has accepted the agreement. After which he would present it to the bride, who is also required to counter-sign, and then keep this important document in a safe place.
The next stage of the Jewish wedding is the pronunciation of the Sheva Brachot, which is the seven blessings. Blessings are powerful declarations meant to affirm G-d’s supremacy, and designed to help man change the course of things to his/her favor. The seven blessings recited during Jewish weddings are meant to help launch the new couple on the path of progress, happiness and meaningful success in every aspects of their life. The recitation of these blessings, according to the tradition, is usually shared among a selected number of people.
To recite these seven benedictions, the officiating minister poured the second cup of wine, before the following blessings are recited aloud:
- Blessed are You, HASHEM, our God, King of the universe, Who has created everything for His glory.
- Blessed are You, HASHEM, our God, King of the universe, Who fashioned the Man.
- Blessed are You, HASHEM, our God, King of the universe, Who fashioned the Man in His image, in the image of his likeness and prepared for him-from himself- a building for eternity. Blessed are You, HASHEM, our God, King of the universe, Who fashioned the Man.
- Bring intense joy and exultation to the barren one through the in-gathering of her children amidst her in gladness.
- Blessed are You, HASHEM, our God, King of the universe, Who gladdens Zion through her children.
- Gladden the beloved companions as You gladden Your creature in the Garden of Eden from aforetime. Blessed are You, HASHEM, our God, King of the universe, Who gladdens the groom and bride.
- Blessed are You, HASHEM, our God, King of the universe, Who created joy and gladness, groom and bride, mirth, glad song, pleasure, delight, love, brotherhood, peace, and companionship. HASHEM, our God, let there soon be heard in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the groom’s jubilance from their canopies and the youths from their song-filled feasts. Blessed are You, Who gladden the groom with the bride.
- Blessed are You, HASHEM, our God, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the wine.