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October 20, 2014 / 26 Tishri, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘synagogue’

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.

Croatian Synagogue Demolished by Fascists to be Rebuilt

Saturday, July 27th, 2013

The Jewish community of Zagreb, Croatia, is moving ahead with plans to rebuild a synagogue destroyed in the World War II.

“We are conducting examinations in Prague Street on the site of our destroyed synagogue in order to rebuild it,” said a statement from the local Jewish community, quoted Thursday by the Jutarnji newspaper.

Today, the site is a parking lot and features a plaque memorializing the synagogue. A debate over whether to rebuild the synagogue started soon after Croatia became independent in 1991, but nothing was done partly because of disagreements within the Jewish community, the paper reported.

The synagogue was opened in 1867 and was destroyed 1942 by the Fascist Ustasha regime, which ruled Croatia under Nazi and Italian patronage from 1941 until May 1945.

Nazis and their collaborators murdered about 9,000 Jewish men, women and children in the city during the Holocaust. Less than 3,000 survived the Nazi occupation, and  800 of them emigrated to Israel in 1948, according to the  non-profit  Beit Israel,.

Only 509 Jews remain in all of Croatia, according to the 2011 census.

Vandals Spray Paint Portland Jewish Institutions

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Vandals defaced a Portland synagogue and a community center with racist graffiti. “White power” was written in red spray paint on promotional banners at Mittleman Jewish Community Center and Neveh Shalom, a conservative synagogue, police said, according to The Oregonian.

Both institutions are located in southwest Portland, and authorities are seeking a man in his early 20s who was spotted in the area shortly before the graffiti was discovered.

KKK Member Tried to Sell X-Ray Weapon to Kill ‘Israel’s Enemies’

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Two New York residents, one of them identified with the Ku Klux Klan, tried to sell to Jewish groups a deadly X-ray radiation device that one of them described as “Hiroshima on a light switch” and which he designed to zap people to death, according to the FBI, which unsealed its complaint in Albany on Wednesday.

The FBI charged Glendon Scott Crawford, 49, who is an industrial mechanic with General Electric in Schenectady, and alleged co-conspirator Eric J. Feight, 54, who works for an electronics company in Columbia County, with material support to terrorists, including use of a weapon of mass destruction.

Crawford told undercover FBI agents dujring a year-long investigation that he is “a member of the Ku Klux Klan, specifically, the United Northern & Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.”

His device was designed to be mounted on a truck and remotely controlled with the capability of aiming a laser beam of radioactivity at people.

He searched for a source of radiation and found supposed a ready supplies who actually were FBI agents, working after apparent tip-offs from two Albany synagogues Crawford approached.

He approached one synagogue in April 2012 and “asked to speak with a person who might be willing to help him with a type of technology that could be used by Israel to defeat its enemies, specifically, by killing Israel’s enemies while they slept,” the FBI complaint says.

The “enemies” referred to by Crawford are Muslims and enemies of the United States to whom he referred as “medical waste.”

Crawford contacted a second Albany area synagogue the same day with a similar offer.

The FBI complaint states, “Crawford also told the (FBI source) that the target of his radiation emitting device would be the Muslim community. Crawford described the device’s capabilities as ‘Hiroshima on a light switch’ and that ‘everything with respiration would be dead by the morning.’”

He ended his meeting with the agent by stating, “How much sweeter could there be than a big stack of smelly bodies?”

The investigation advanced to the point that in December, the FBI requested and received a search warrant enabling agents to monitor Crawford’s and Feight’s cell phone calls, emails and text messages.

Crawford had successfully tested the remote triggering system, without a radiation supply, which could work from a little less than a half mile away from the weapon, according to the complaint. The suspects met in Albany on May 20 with the device in hand, and they planned to test it in a dry run out at a hotel, without a radiation system.

Crawford and Feight met again last Wednesday, when Crawford was to have been provided with an unfinished radiation system.

FBI agents, posing as South Carolina Ku Klux Klan members, who were interested in buying the device and financing the plot, arrested them on the spot.

New Torah Scroll for Sochi Synagogue ahead of Winter Olympics

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

The synagogue in Sochi in Russia has been renovated and a new Torah scroll acquired ahead of the city’s hosting of the Winter Olympics next year.

Rabbi Ari Edelkopf, director of the Jewish Community of Sochi, told JTA the renovation was completed this month and “will help our synagogue serve not only thousands of local Jews, but also Jews from around the world who come to Sochi for business and the thousands expected during the Winter Olympics.”

The previous Winter Olympics, held in 2010 in Vancouver, drew in thousands of athletes from dozens of countries and tens of thousands of spectators.

The new Torah scroll was brought to Sochi’s synagogue, housed in the local Jewish Community Center, after a colorful procession earlier this month through the main streets of the resort city of 500,000 on the eastern shores of the Black Sea.

The Kaganovich family in St. Petersburg paid for the Torah. Berel Lazar, a chief rabbi of Russia, and rabbis from the Jewish community of St. Petersburg led a ceremony marking its arrival.

Anti-Semites Scrawl Crosses on Tel Aviv Synagogue

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

Another synagogue was again vandalized on Friday night in Bat Yam, adjacent to Tel Aviv, in the sixth anti-Semitic attack on a synagogue in the city in the past month.

“We came to the synagogue, and were deeply distressed to find it vandalized. It really tears up my heart. The police came and saw the damage, but announced that nothing can be done”, one member said. ”

“If this would happen to a mosque or church the world would be reeling with rage. The police must put an end to this before a real tragedy occurs. This must stop,” another added. Thousands of Arabs and Christians live in the area.

Last Wednesday, crosses were spray-painted at the entrance to the nearby Ohel synagogue, and swastikas and crosses  were painted on the walls of synagogues and windows were broken in previous attacks.

Members of the Ohel synagogue, which was established by Holocaust survivors, staged a protest rally on Thursday against desecration of the synagogues.

“The police come, take statements and shoot photos, but none of the terrorists have been caught yet” one of the congregations members said.

After vandals struck the Ohel synagogue twice a month ago, synagogue official Miki Moskowitz told Channel 2,  “I am certain that if settlers had sprayed hate slogans on a mosque, that Public Security Minister Yitzchak Aharonovitch would immediately be interviewed on any available podium” to condemn the attack. “Since this was done in Bat Yam, no one cares,” he added.

‘My Israel’, an extra-parliamentary Zionist activist group, issued the following statement in response to these recent attacks, “All acts of vandalism are ugly, in the Shomron as well as in Bat Yam. The media must awaken and become active and ‘biting’ as they can. These incidents in Bat Yam should be treated by the government, police and media with the same magnitude as they are in the Shomron.”

Two New Jersey Men Plead Not Guilty in Synagogue Bombings

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

Two New Jersey men, indicted in March for arson and attempted murder and terrorism, pleaded not guilt in a New Jersey court this week.

Anthony Graziano of Lodi and Aakash Dalal of New Brunswick, both 21, were arrested after the northern New Jersey’s Bergen County bombings, one of which injured Beth El Congregation Rabbi Nosson Schuman.

The attackers hurled a firebomb at the family’s residential unit in the synagogue, setting fire to a bedroom.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/two-new-jersey-men-plead-not-guilty-in-synagogue-bombings/2013/05/22/

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