On Tuesday, a Zoom webinar organized by the Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel organization brought together dozens of Nigeria’s Igbo Jews for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to William Miles, writing in Kulanu in 2006, the religious practices of the Igbo Jews include circumcision eight days after the birth of a male child, observance of kosher dietary laws, separation of men and women during menstruation, wearing of the tallit and kippah, and the celebration of holidays such as Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah and Purim.
According to Shavei Israel, there are about 70 Igbo Jewish communities in Nigeria, founded at different times and under various circumstances. The first and biggest Jewish community has been in Lagos for more than 20 years. Most of the communities have at least one place of study or synagogue where members gather for daily and Shabbat services. The Igbo are one of Nigeria’s largest ethnic groups, and among them is a minority of some 4,000 people practicing Judaism and defining themselves as the descendants of a lost tribe of Israel.
Last year, Shavei Israel organized and ran a seminar in Nigeria for the Igbo youth. This year, the event will not be able to take place because of Coronavirus. Instead, Shavei Israel will be offering Zoom classes to members of the community.
“This Zoom class marked the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus that the Igbo Jewish communities across central, western and southern Nigeria were able to come together, at least virtually, and learn more about Judaism,” said Shavei Israel founder and chairman Michael Freund. “We felt it was important in advance of Shavuot to bring them together and break down at least temporarily some of the walls that social distancing has created. I was very moved by the participants, which included young and old alike, all of whom have a real and sincere thirst for Jewish knowledge. The event was a great success and we plan to continue with additional classes.”
“It was absolutely amazing! It was great for the communities to meet with each other. They have been apart for a long time because of the Coronavirus so it was great for them to see each other and know they’re all okay, to bring them together in this way,” said Gadi Bentley, Shavei Israel’s emissary to Nigeria. “It was seven communities and five individuals in different places. In Africa, and Nigeria in particular, it’s very hard to connect, but we made it work. People really listened to the shiur. It was perfect and great.”