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July 24, 2016 / 18 Tammuz, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Hebrew’

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.

Guest Author

Holland Hebrew Bookstore Ex-Owners Move to Israel, Close Up Shop

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

One of Western Europe’s largest Hebrew bookstores has closed down in Amsterdam as its former owners prepare to move to Israel.

The Samech bookstore has been supplying Hebrew-language books to members of Holland’s Jewish community for nearly 40 years and possessed a stock of 100,000 books, according to the website of the Dutch Israelite Religious Community, or NIK.

The store, which used to be the largest of its kind in the Netherlands, belonged to Daan and Shulamit Daniel, who are planning to move to Israel. All their children had already moved out of the Netherlands in favor of “places with richer Jewish lives than Amsterdam,” according to NIK.

The store’s entire stock was sold or given away last month, the report by NIK said. Holland has a Jewish population of 41,000 -45,000, the European Jewish Congress reported.

JTA

Gavi’s Aliyah is a Success – with Help from eTeacherHebrew

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

Gavi Hanssen (45) made Aliya with his wife (42) and four children (12, 10, 8, and 4) from Denver Colorado in July 2012. When he met his wife, she told him that she wanted to make Aliya and he was open to the idea. Gavi said, “I don’t necessarily believe that all Jews should live in Israel, but we wanted to be part of Israel, part of the history of Jews coming back to their land after 2000 years in the Diaspora. You live only once, and I wanted to experience it in my life.”

When Gavi’s wife’s job ended 18 months ago, they decided to take the opportunity to start something new in Israel. After the decision was made, everything fell into place:Gavi, his wife and the two older children started studying Hebrew with eTeacher; a house was found in a small community in the Galilee– exactly what the family was looking for.

Nefesh B’Nefesh helped them in their preparation by providing accurate information to create a realistic view of what was awaiting them in the Promised Land. After arriving in Israel,Nefesh B’Nefesh “offered more help than we could even take advantage of,” Gavi said with a smile.

Employment

In the States, Gavi was a consultant with non-profit organizations and his wife worked as a teacher. In Israel, his wife easily found a job as an English teacher and Gavi started looking for a job only two months ago after helping the kids settle in. He goes for regular interviews and feels confident that he will find a job soon.

Children’s education

Gavi said that a major motivator for moving to Israel was the children’s education. It was important for him and his wife to give their children a good Jewish education, so they enrolled them in an expensive Jewish day school in Denver. In Israel, they feel, their children get a good Jewish education almost for free.

Housing

Gavi feels happy with choosing Eshchar as their new home in Israel. Though they had never visited the house or neighborhood before making Aliya, as they took their first steps into their new home, neighbors were welcoming them with food and help, and children from the neighborhood came to play with their children. Although they are not a religious family, the Hanssens feel very comfortable in a mixed place where religious families live next to secular ones, where mixed couples (religious and secular) are accepted and where nobody judges you for the way you live your life.

Hebrew

Gavi’s wife spent a year at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem during her college years, so her Hebrew was already very good; and she only needed some high-level Hebrew lessons with eTeacher to sharpen up her language before arrival. Gavi also studied Hebrew before and took online classes before and after making Aliya. He felt that his online teacher, Nili Gross, helped him not only with the language, but also with Israeli culture and perspective. Although Olim Chadashim are entitled to a free Ulpan (intensive Hebrew courses), Gavi decided instead to continue his studies online with his outstanding teacher, Nili. The most important thing, beyond the lessons, is speaking Hebrew everywhere: at the bank, the store, at his children’s school, in the street – not feeling embarrassed about mistakes, simply speaking Hebrew.

Children’s adjustment

Gavi has found that the adjustment is easier for his kids the younger they are. His four-year-old daughter already speaks Hebrew that she acquired in her preschool. His older boys have friends and participate in lots of after-school activities. They seem to be happy and well adjusted. Sometimes they do dream about their familiar environment back in Denver and sometimes they miss skiing, but overall, they don’t have many problems.

Gavi says that he sometimes experiences unique communication problems with his children when he tries to help them with homework. The children learn new terms in school in Hebrew and when he tries to help them, he finds that he lacks the words in Hebrew, while the kids lack the words in English.

Revelation

When asked about his greatest revelation about living in Israel, Gavi thought for a moment and said, “It’s a normal life in here. People think that living in the Holy land, surrounded by Jewish people is very special, but people here go around their business and have the same concerns that people all over the world have – mortgage, job, etc. I don’t worry about bombs here, but about rent, education, about normal things.”

Overall experience

Although it was probably easier to stay in their familiar environment in the USA, Gavi and his wife feel that their Aliya gave the family “opportunity for huge emotional and spiritual growth.”

Gavi sees Aliya from English-speaking counties as unique because their choice to live in Israel did not come from a need the way it does for others who may not be able to live freely as Jews in their countries of origin.

“I look from the back of my house at the Mediterranean Sea and I feel that I am part of history, I am part of Israel, and I am happy to be here. We are committed and we’re gonna make it!”

So come visit Israel and learn Hebrew online with eTeacherHebrew! Join Now!

Shira Regev Cohen

Israeli Engineer Shoots 9-Year-Old Son, Self, in NH (Video)

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Muni Savyon, 54, of Manchester, NH, took out a handgun and shot 9-year-old Joshua of Amherst before shooting himself, around 10 AM, Sunday, the attorney general’s office said.

The father sent an email to a friend saying he was suicidal before the shootings, said Rabbi Levi Krinsky of Chabad Lubavitch of Manchester, who said he knew Savyon. Krinsky said Savyon had been depressed after returning from his brother’s funeral in Israel.

“There’s a lot of sadness and also anger on the part of everyone involved that a father would take his son’s life for no other reason than apparently to spite his mother,” New Hampshire Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin told the Boston Herald.

Muni Savyon with his child (taken from his facebook page).

Muni Savyon with his child (taken from his facebook page).

Muni Savyon had made threats about a year ago to harm himself, his ex-girlfriend and their 9-year-old boy, Joshua Savyon, Strelzin said.

The social worker who was present at the father’s supervised visit with his son was not harmed during the attack, which was captured on video after the boy’s mother had dropped him off. Strelzin said supervised visits are often held at the YMCA, which sometimes uses a metal detector to screen parents, but did not do so yesterday. He said no one suspected Savyon was capable of violence.

Ellen Vig of Billerica, Sayvon’s ex-wife—not the mother of his child—said she has a copy of the letter, written in Hebrew.

“It was his intentions. What he wanted to do with his property,” she told the Boston Herald. “It’s a suicide note.”

Savyon was active in Libertarian causes, Vig said, and was a twice-defeated candidate for the New Hampshire legislature, most recently in February.

“Please keep the Savyon family in your thoughts and prayers as they cope with the unimaginable,” Rep. Peter King, who easily beat Savyon in a special election for the New Hampshire House of Representatives, said from his Twitter account.

Born in Israel, Savyon was a naturalized citizen who lived in several Western states before coming to New England, where he worked as a software engineer, Vig said.


Jewish Press Staff

Israel Hosts Global Conference to Promote Women’s Rights

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

Hebrew University Stand With Us Campus Coordinator Lee-El Lewinsohn recently accompanied 25 students to the International Women’s Conference, which focused on women’s rights in Israel and promoting worldwide gender equality. Leading Israeli public figures, including politicians, activists, businesswomen, journalists, and religious leaders, spoke at the conference. Commenting on the conference, Lewinsohn noted, “Israel faces many challenges, and so do the women in Israel, but our strong pluralistic and democratic society has achieved many goals and is constantly in flux, changing, growing and improving.”

Participant countries of origin included Nepal, Cameroon, Nigeria, Kenya, and even the island of Nevis in the Caribbean. Shelisa Martin Clarke, a public health administrator who came from Nevis, said she learned “from the Israeli perspective” how to deal with domestic and gender based violence in her country. Sabina Deshemaru, a Nepalese student at the Hebrew University, noted, “I want to approach the Nepalese army and to see if there is a chance to replicate the idea of how Israel works with people who have post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Rilwan Raji, a Nigerian doctor, emphasized that Israel “is an inspiration” with regard to women’s rights, noting that he is consistently impressed by women serving in high level positions in the IDF, the Knesset, and Israel’s foreign service. “Basically, the most important thing is how women are integrated into the political system, for the more women are in politics, the better will be the plight of the girl child. For me, it’s unbelievable that Israel has so much to offer despite the conflict. It shows that the security situation is not an excuse for lack of development,” he said. He claimed that Nigeria frequently uses the existence of the Boko Haram Islamist terror group, which attacks schools, healthcare clinics and churches, as a pretext for lack of development.

Luchuo Engelbert Bain, a doctor from Cameroon, learned from the Stand With Us conference how to communicate pro-women’s health messages that emphasize that the “problems of women are the same the world over, even though the degree differs.” He also noted the importance of inspiring men to take an interest in promoting women’s rights. According to Bain, the information he gathered at the Stand With Us Conference will help him educate women about the dangers of HIV and the need to protect themselves against risks in Cameroon posed by arranged childhood marriages, forced marriages to deceased husbands’ brothers, and prostitution, all of which lead to the spread of HIV.

Visit United with Israel.

Rachel Avraham

Jewish Survival in the Face of Existential Threats: a Focus on Women

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Women have exercised their inherent gift of intuition and bravery to influence the course of Jewish history from the earliest time recorded.

The dramatic confrontation between Sarah and Avraham over the choice of successor, in effect a struggle over the survival of Judaism, was reenacted a generation later between Rivka and Yitzchak. In the face of his own preference, Rivka, just like Sarah, was intrinsically directed to choose the optimal heir to Yitzchak.

Egyptian Exile and Exodus are pivotal landmarks in the history of our people’s struggle for survival. References to Galut Mitzrayim (Exile in Egypt) and Yetziat Mitzrayim (Exodus from Egypt) are central to the entire corpus of Jewish socio-ethical teaching. Against such background, the rabbinic dictum that “It is to the credit of the righteous women that our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt” (Sotah 11) is quite remarkable. Our rabbis recognized the roles women played in making redemption possible.

The Hebrew midwives, who at the risk of their lives defied the edict of Pharaoh “and let the children live” (Sh’mot 1:17), were rewarded for their great courage, and “G-d granted a bounty for the midwives, and the nation multiplied and grew very mighty” (Sh’mot 1:20). The other women also did their share to ensure survival by keeping their appearance attractive and boosting their husbands’ morale.

Within this context the Midrash focuses on the role of Miriam whose admonishment prompted her own father to resume his marital duty. And so, the birth and survival of Moshe, the Divine instrument of Israel’s redemption, was the consequence of intuitive acts by a number of women which included, besides Miriam and Yocheved, even Pharaoh’s daughter who, by adopting Moshe and providing a Hebrew nurse for him, completed the first phase of Israel’s redemption.

Regarding the next phase of redemption, Matan Torah, the Giving of the Torah at Sinai, our rabbis claim that the women were given the Torah first because it is they who teach their children “the ways of the Torah.” The teachers of “the way” to the next generation hold the secret of a people’s survival. They are the bridge to the Jewish future.

The Biblical precedent established a pattern for women of later generations to have a historically defined role as the vanguard in the struggle of Jewish survival. At every crucial juncture women have stepped into the historical vacuum to provide roles as unseen movers based on their prophetic intuition and their ability “to tune into” the existential self of the Jewish people.

From Rebbetzin Recha Freier who spearheaded a movement which evolved into the Youth Aliyah, a major instrument of rescue for Jewish children during the Holocaust, to Rivka Gruber, teacher, librarian, and social worker, who, after her two sons fell in Israel’s War of Independence, became the founder of a string of settlements in the Sharon Valley, women have been silent movers, creating educational, social, health and welfare infrastructures for the Jewish community.

And how about the women in our present situation of surrounding existential threat, the war of terror in Israel?

That chapter is being written even as we speak. Do you remember the name Chava Shatsky? How could you? She is one among innumerable heroines whose children were murdered by Arab terrorists, one name among hundreds. Her 15 year-old daughter Keren was killed by an Arab terrorist in the Karne Shomron mall on Motzei Shabbat, February 16, 2002.

I happen to remember because of a personal connection. Reading in The Jewish Press that Karen and the other casualties were pupils in Kedumim’s Ulpana Lehava, where someone from my family taught English, I immediately contacted her to offer my emotional support. When I started to speak and my words drowned in tears, it was she who comforted me. Yes, Keren was her pupil, she said, and Keren’s mother, Chava Shatsky, was the chairman of the department at Lehava.

“You must speak to Chava,” she advised me. “Chava will give you chizuk, strength… she gave chizuk to all of us. In our grief over Keren, the faith of Keren’s mother gave us all strength,” the young teacher said. When I expressed profound amazement, she continued: “Yes, it is amazing. Yet there are many other women who react similarly. And these women are the guarantee that we will make it,” she said with pride.

The young teacher’s words helped me. They helped me cope with the grief and face the future. Indeed, these heroic mothers, like Jewish women throughout our history of confrontation with existential threats are the guarantee that we will make it.

Prof. Livia Bitton-Jackson

Ancient Text May Have Been Written in Hebrew

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

In July, JewishPress.com reported on archaeologists finding a 3000 year old, jar fragment written in a seemingly unknown script, it has been called the Ophel Inscription. The Ophel is the archaeology park next to the Temple Mount where the jar segment was uncovered.

Near Eastern history and Biblical studies expert Douglas Petrovich told Fox News that he believes that the writing is in an ancient Hebrew script.

If Petrovich’s analysis is right, then this is the earliest example of written Hebrew found to date, and scientific proof that the Israelites were able to compose the Tanach in real-time.

For more information, read about the background of the find.

Jewish Press News Briefs

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/ancient-text-may-have-been-written-in-hebrew/2013/08/01/

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