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Nigeria’s Igbo Jews

Many Igbo, even while practicing Christianity, nonetheless consider themselves Jewish.

Nigerian Igbo people.

Nigerian Igbo people.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jeff L. Lieberman, RE-EMERGING: The Jews of Nigeria

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Jewish education for adults and children in Abuja revolves around the three Igbo synagogues found in the sprawling city of almost 2 million people. The largest of these, Gihon Hebrews’ Synagogue, constructed in 2005, is headed by Elder Peter Agbai, a gentle but energetic retired geologist.

Gihon’s spokesman, Azuka Pinchas Ogbukaa, tasked with cultivating relationships with other Jewish communities, is a businessman from a royal Igbo family. “Right now we are trying to get the traditions right, to do things the right way,” said Ogbukaa. “For us, education is the most important thing.”

“When I see adults and elders struggling to learn alongside the younger ones, I find encouragement for my efforts and know I must work harder,” Eben Cohen told me and Nwafor, who urged him to continue to teach, despite the challenges.

“We must make sacrifices if we are to establish ourselves,” Nwafor said.

In order to thrive in Nigeria, its Igbo Jews must be sturdier and more resilient than Nwafor’s felled cashew tree.

The Igbo Jews’ small numbers — perhaps 3,000 to 5,000 in a country of 175 million — do not concern them, especially as they view themselves as part of the wider Jewish world, but their remoteness from other Jewish communities complicates matters.

“We are adherents of the Jewish faith in Nigeria. We are neither Christian nor Muslim,” said Pinchas Ogbukaa, seated in the shade of Nwafor’s hut. “Belonging to neither of those faiths is not even the problem. The greatest of all the challenges we are facing is that of isolation. Bridges of Jewish education and worship have to be built, connecting us with other communities in the United States and Israel.”

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Providence Journal.
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5 Responses to “Nigeria’s Igbo Jews”

  1. Shemayah Shiloh Phillips says:

    That’s what we need is more “Christian Jews” almost as much as Nazi Jews or Satanist Jews.

  2. pamgreen says:

    How soon before the Islamists destroy them?  There are only 5000 of them.  They should be invited to emigrate to Israel.

  3. Ben Omonoyan says:

    THANKS TO ADONAI THE NIGERIAN IGBOS ARE REDISCOVERING THEIR JEWISH ROOTS…

  4. Violet Helms says:

    Shemaya Shiloh Phillips, I echo your sentiment. They may have a few of the trappings, but if they have chosen to worship another god, they are NOT Jews. Just because the Pope wears a Kippah it does make him Jewish.

  5. Following the roots – Abraham.

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