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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘christian’

Nigeria’s Igbo Jews

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

By Shai Afsai

With noon temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, visitors to Habakkuk Nwafor’s family compound in Abuja seek shelter in a palm-fronds hut adjoining his private shrine. No grass grows through the sandy soil of the walled compound, while a mighty cashew tree that once offered shade was felled in a storm several years ago. A few paces from the hut and shrine is Tikvat Israel, the synagogue headed by Nwafor.

With no Nigerian rabbis, men like Nwafor, who began practicing Judaism in 2002, have assumed the mantle of religious leadership in Igbo Jewish communities. A competitive boxer in his youth, Nwafor, now in his mid-50s, works in construction and also raises goats and chickens, which roam freely about the compound.

Bearded, lean and muscular, he has a distinctly raspy voice and an intensely religious fervor. In the distance, beyond his synagogue, a towering and tree-lined mountain is visible, and it is there that Nwafor retreats by foot to fast and meditate in seclusion.

“Only hunters and animals are on the mountain. They do not trouble me,” he says. “I go there to talk with God.”

Like Nwafor, Tikvat Israel’s congregants are Igbo, who believing themselves to be descendants of Israelites who many centuries ago arrived in what is now Nigeria, identify themselves as Jews.

The Igbo, whose traditional homeland — Igboland — is in the southeastern portion of the country, are Nigeria’s third largest ethnic group. Most are Christian, but many Igbo, even while practicing Christianity, nonetheless consider themselves Jewish. In the past few decades, several thousand Igbo have taken this self-identification a step further and embraced Judaism, which they see as their lost heritage.

The phenomenon of Igbo identification with Jews dates to the 18th century, following the Igbo’s encounter with Christian missionaries and their introduction to the Bible, in which they found similarities between Igbo customs and those of the ancient Hebrews. Some Igbo, such as the 18th-century writer Equiano Olaudah, concluded “that the one people had sprung from the other,” an opinion shared by the worshipers at Tikvat Israel.

Earlier this year, Nwafor invited me to Abuja to celebrate the annual Purim holiday — the Jewish Festival of Lots, based on the biblical Book of Esther — as well as to learn more about Nigerian Jewry.

Upon exiting Abuja’s air-conditionless airport terminal, I was met by Nwafor, who was wearing a blue and white Tikvat Israel T-shirt. A waiting car took us to Kubwa, the neighborhood where Nwafor and his wife, Amaka, live with their children. For the next week I was their guest, and as my host, Nwafor never left my side, accompanying me on all my trips to homes, synagogues and sites in Abuja.

Among the many visitors who flocked to Nwafor’s compound after my arrival were four prayer leaders and Hebrew teachers who traveled over eight hours by bus from Igboland to meet with me. The knowledge and proficiency of these four men, three of whom were in their 20s, was remarkable given that they had managed to learn so much of Jewish tradition through the Internet.

Late into the night, they chanted Hebrew prayers and played religious songs they had downloaded to their iPhones.

The power often goes out in Abuja, especially at night, and residents rely a great deal on flashlights and generators. So we sat in Nwafor’s courtyard, the thick darkness illuminated only by the blue glow of their cellphones, the air filled with music and talk of Judaism in Nigeria, the United States and Israel.

The eldest of the four visitors, a musician in his 40s named Chislon Eben Cohen, was among the first Igbo Jews to master Hebrew, which he did in part by obtaining materials through the mail from the Academy of the Hebrew Language in Israel.

Eben Cohen has taken the next step of passing on his knowledge, and among his first students was Nwafor’s now-15-year-old son, Hezekiah. Hezekiah usually leads the prayer services at Tikvat Israel — often with melodies he has composed himself — and he hopes one day to become a rabbi.

The lack of Nigerian rabbis sometimes leaves Igbo Jews uncertain about traditional Jewish practice elsewhere and has led them to rely a great deal on the Internet, as well as on books obtained from abroad.

Chief Ukrainian Rabbi Calls for Removal of Provocative Cross

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

The recent placing of a crucifix near the Uman grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov was an act of “clear provocation,” said Ukraine’s Rabbi Yaakov Bleich, who called for its immediate removal.

“Ukraine is not a Jewish country, and Ukrainian Jews respect Christian symbols like crosses,” Bleich told the Jewish Ukrainian news site Еvreiskiy.kiev.ua. “However, the cross raised in Uman, in the immediate vicinity of the tomb of Rabbi Nachman, is a clear provocation.”

Earlier this month, Hebrew graffiti was discovered on the crucifix, which was erected in recent weeks on the banks of a lake near the grave of the 18th-century founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement. The Hebrew message read: “To exact vengeance on the gentiles.” A further inscription on the crucifix’s leg reads: “Stop desecrating the name of God.”

Referring to an estimated 30,000 Jewish pilgrims expected to arrive in Uman for Rosh Hashanah, Bleich said: “They will not be able to pray there this year.” He told JTA the cross would prevent the pilgrims from performing tashlich, a prayer often accompanied with the ritual of symbolically casting off the sins of the previous year by tossing pieces of bread or another food into a body of flowing water.

Israeli Women’s Karate Champion Fights for Coexistence

Monday, August 12th, 2013

United With Israel recently met with Loris Afara, Israel’s top competitor in women’s karate, at the Stand With US International Women’s Conference.  From the village of Almazraa, Afara is an Israeli Christian and has represented Israel more than 45 times at the European Karate Championships where she has taken home the bronze medal.

Located in Northern Israel, Almazraa has a 97 percent Muslim and 3 percent Christian population. Surrounded by Jewish kibbutzim and villages, Afara described it as a very open and tolerant village supporting peaceful coexistence between religions. Afara began learning Hebrew at age three and said that growing up, when she looked at other children, she did not see a religion but rather another human being. Although she is Christian, she has studied both Judaism and Islam in depth.

Afara began as one of two Israeli Arabs on Israel’s national karate team and the only Christian woman in this position. She proceeded to win four gold medals in the Maccabiah Games, in addition to winning third place in the European championship for karate.  She was the first Israeli to win such an honor and her success has inspired other Israeli Arab women to practice karate.

Afara considers herself an Israeli Christian that speaks Arabic and does not view herself as Palestinian. She is very proud of her Israeli heritage and has a mixed group of friends, consisting of both Arabs and Jews. Arafa opposes Palestinian terrorism explaining that it is a threat to Israeli Arabs just as much as to the Jewish people and recalled the Maxim restaurant suicide bombing, where she lost fellow classmates, as an example. Afara told United With Israel that she is proud to represent Israel through karate and sings Hatikva alongside her fellow Israeli athletes. She views herself as a sports ambassador and believes that athletics can break down political barriers that usually block communication between peoples in the midst of conflicts.

Visit United with Israel.

Part of Enormous 1,000-Year-Old Jerusalem Hospital Shown to Public

Monday, August 5th, 2013

Part of an enormous Old City of Jerusalem hospital building dating to the Crusader period from the years 1099-1291 has been revealed to the public following excavations and research by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Records show that the Christians provided Jewish patients with kosher food. The building, owned by the Muslim Waqf religious authority, is situated in the heart of the Christian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, in a region known as “Muristan,” a corruption of the Persian word for hospital. It is located near David Street, the main road in the Old City.

Until a decade or so ago the building served as a bustling and crowded fruit and vegetable market. Since then it stood there desolate until the Grand Bazaar Company said it wanted to renovate the market as a restaurant, when the Israel Antiquities Authority began to conduct archaeological soundings there.

The structure, only a small part of which was exposed in the excavation, seems to extend across an enormous area of nearly four acres.

Its construction is characterized by massive pillars and ribbed vaults and it stands more than 19 feet high, suggesting an image of a great hall composed of pillars, rooms and smaller halls.

Excavation directors Renee Forestany and Amit Re’em said, “We’ve learned about the hospital from contemporary historical documents, most of which are written in Latin. These mention a sophisticated hospital that is as large and as organized as a modern hospital. The hospital was established and constructed by a Christian military order named the ‘Order of St. John of the Hospital in Jerusalem’ and known by its Latin name the Hospitallers (from the word hospital). These righteous warriors took an oath to care for and watch over pilgrims, and when necessary they joined the ranks of the fighters as an elite unit.”

The hospital was comprised of different wings and departments according to the nature of the illness and the condition of the patient – similar to a modern hospital. In an emergency situation the hospital could accept as many as 2,000 patients.

The Hospitallers treated sick men and women of different religions. There is information about Crusaders who ensured their Jewish patients received kosher food. All that notwithstanding, they were completely ignorant in all aspects of medicine and sanitation: an eyewitness of the period reports that a Crusader doctor amputated the leg of a warrior just because he had a small infected wound. Needless to say, the patient died.

The Muslim Arab population was instrumental in assisting the Crusaders in establishing the hospital and teaching them medicine.

The size of the hospital can be learned from contemporary documents, one of which recounts an incident about a staff member who was irresponsible in the performance of his work in the hospital. That person was marched alongside the building awhile, and the rest of the staff, with whips in hand, formed a line behind him and beat him. This spectacle was witnessed by all of the patients.

The Ayyubid ruler Saladin lived near the hospital following the defeat of the Crusaders, and he also renovated and maintained the structure. He permitted ten Crusader monks to continue to reside there and serve the population of Jerusalem.

The building collapsed in an earthquake that struck in 1457 CE and was buried beneath its ruins, which is how it remained until the Ottoman period. In the Middle Ages parts of the structure were used as a stable and the bones of horses and camels were found in excavations, alongside an enormous amount of metal that was used in shoeing the animals.

According to Monser Shwieki, the project manager, “The magnificent building will be integrated in a restaurant slated to be constructed there, and its patrons will be impressed by the enchanting atmosphere of the Middle Ages that prevails there.”

“The place will be open to the public later this year,” he added.

Alabama Prof. Uncovers 2,000-Year-Old Village in Northern Israel

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

A U.S.-led team of archaeologists has announced it has discovered the site of Shikhin in the Lower Galilee, which is mentioned even before the Second Temple by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus and which existed after the destruction of the Temple.

The Talmud mentions Shikhin as a village of potters near Tzippori, which was a Talmudic center after the destruction of the Second Temple.

Josephus wrote that Shikhin as one of the earliest Jewish settlements in the Galilee at the time of the Hasmonaean rule about 140-63 B.C..

Religion Prof. Riley Strange, of Alabama’s Samford University, led a team of David Fiensy of Kentucky Christian University and Mordechai Aviam, of the Kinneret Academic College, and students and researchers, many of whom worked for nearly two years at the site approximately five miles northwest of Nazareth.

They found an ancient synagogue, houses and massive evidence of pottery production in the ancient village of Shikhin, near the ancient Talmudic center of Tzippori.

“The site of the discovery has been abandoned, except for agriculture, ever since the mid-fourth century A.D.,” said Prof. Strange. “The buildings came down and people used its stones in other nearby buildings, then those buildings were destroyed and the stones were re-used again.”

Like Tziporri, where ongoing archaeological digs have come up with numerous discoveries, Shikhin flourished as a Jewish village while co-existing with Christian neighbors.

The archaeologists uncovered a large number of molds that are proof that the village potters produced various types of seven-branched oil lamps in addition to common pottery forms. One small fragment of an oil lamp is decorated with a Menorah and Lulav, the palm branch used on the holiday of Sukkot.

The discovery is considered highly significant and opens up a treasure chest that sheds more light on the rich culture of the period and of the economic and religious lives of Jews in an era when Christians began to be influential.

Bnei Brak Man Arrested for ‘Price Tag’ Attack on Monastery

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Police have arrested a 22-year-old Bnei Brak resident in connection with an arson and vandalism attack on the  Latrun monastery last September that drew international condemnation.

The monastery door was set alight and the names of West Bank outposts were spray-painted on the walls along with the epithet “Jesus is a monkey.” The incident was labeled a “price tag” attack in response to the evacuation last summer of Migron, a West Bank outpost.

Bnei Brak, a densely populated city of 178,000 near Tel Aviv, has a mostly Haredi Orthodox population.

An administrative restraining order was issued against the suspect from Bnei Brak, preventing him from traveling to the West Bank.

Archbishop of Canterbury to Visit Western Wall and Al Aqsa Mosque

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is scheduled to arrive in Israel Wednesday as part of a five-day trip to the Middle East.

The archbishop is making sure to honor all three major religions, with visits planned to the Western Wall, the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Welby, whose father’s German-Jewish family fled to the UK to escape anti-Semitism in the late 19th century, will also visit Yad VaShem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial.

He also will attend the opening of an Arab Episcopal medical center in Ramallah, according to the London Guardian.

Greek Church’s ‘Eye or an Eye’ Blocks Jerusalem Festival

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem said Tuesday that it will not allow Jerusalem to use church property in the Old City for a festival because of alleged police action against Christians, according to WAFA, the official website of the Palestinian Authority.

Patriarch Theophilos III add that the festival “does not reflect in any way the true identity of Jerusalem,” according to his spokesman Issa Musleh.

Police allegedly attacked worshippers and clerics during Christian holidays, and WAFA told its readers that “Israeli fanatics attack churches, cemeteries and religious people.”

“It would not be sensible that anyone should expect any cooperation to make successful festivities not related to us or Jerusalem,” Musleh added.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/greek-churchs-eye-or-an-eye-blocks-jerusalem-festival/2013/06/06/

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