By Abraham Ben Abraham
The trip to Awka (the Capital of Anambra State) got underway few hours after midday. It was Day 4 of the tour around Anambra State by Professor William Miles, in the company of Sar Habakkuk Nwafor. It was a great weather when we left Nnewi, completely different from the hazy harmattan usually experienced around this time every year. However, since it’ll be a three days visit, we had to carry extra luggage behind the truck; and completed the road trip in about 40 minutes.
Arriving in the beautiful capital of Anambra state, we made the first stop at the home of Ami Chukwuma, the Rosh of Torah-Haqadosh Jewish Congregation in Awka. Then we took a walk less than a mile to the new Synagogue building under construction. Interestingly, the building had four entrances designated for specific purposes:
|Photo Credit: Abraham Ben Abraham
.One for the men to enter into the place of worship,
· Another for the women,
· One for the late comers and children, then
· A central door leading to the backside of the building.
A Brief Meeting with the Rosh
Back at the residence of the Rosh, we learned that he had embraced Judaism about eight years ago. As a retired military officer, who once served under the Nigerian Army, and also fought alongside his Igbo brothers during the Biafran war- he recounted the bitter stories in the past. The aftermath of the 30 months war included destruction of properties and the death of millions of Igbos, through hunger and starvation as a result of food shortages and economic blockade by the government. Sadly, till date, the Igbos continue to face intimidation and have not been fully integrated back into the system. Hence the reason for the occasional agitation witnessed in most part of south/eastern region.
|Ami Chukwuma and Prof. Miles
We were treated to a delicious meal by the Rosh’s wife, which we took in a hurry as the Shabbat was fast approaching, then continued to the next location in Awka.
Ushering in the Shabbat with Rosh Daniel Okolie
Beth Shalom Synagogue is presumably the biggest Jewish place of worship around the Awka metropolis. With a few brothers present that evening, we ushered in the Shabbat, all filled with smiles and excitement, then proceeded to break bread (Khala) and drink wine, before returning back to our hotel rooms on foot.
The following day, over a hundred people gathered inside the synagogue to observe the Shabbat according to how Hashem has commanded. The service was conducted entirely in the Hebrew language, led by two young Kazan (one of them is the son of the Rosh). When the Rosh took the stage, he announced the presence of the visiting professor from the United States, and the congregation chorused a resounding welcome. It was indeed a joyful and memorable service- one that’ll not be forgotten in a hurry. The young Jewish children were also magnificent as their sweet voices echoed loudly when singing songs in Hebrew. After the reading of the weekly parashah taken from the Torah, in English language, the morning service ended a few minutes before noon, since there was no Sefer Torah.
|Abraham Ben Abraham, Sar Habakkuk & Eben Cohen
Discussing the Weekly Torah in the Synagogue
At about 4pm, everybody assembled back in the synagogue for the discussion of the weekly Torah reading. Seated around in a circle, the Rosh led the discussion and answered a couple of questions from the story of Joseph’s reunion with his brothers after being sold into slavery out of jealousy. When the visiting guest was given the chance to speak, he used the opportunity to deliver the message from his Rabbi in America. He presented the following gift items to the synagogue on behalf of Rabbi Franklin:
- Hanukkah candle stands (Menorah)
- Jewish calendar
- Kurdish cup stand
At the end of this interesting discussion, then it was time to carry on with the rest of the service. Next was the Minchah prayers, then followed shortly by the evening Maariv prayers; bringing the long day closer to its end.
|William Miles & Eben Cohen Num
The younger children again displayed their wonderful voices during the Havdalah service, to mark the end of the shabbath and user in the new week. After this, there was a brief moment of singing and dancing in circles at the middle of the synagogue by some very-happy members. Then it was time for group photographs to remember the visit of Professor William Miles to Beth Shalom Knesset in Awka.
|Prof. Miles and Rosh Daniel Okolie
This report will not be complete without mentioning the hospitality of the host, in the person of Mr. Daniel Okolie, a renowned top State Government personnel and the Rosh of the synagogue. He’s the president of the Nigerian Jewish Association, a position he has held for over seven years. Truly, this is an indication of his great qualities as a leader, both in the synagogue and at the place of work.
He is full of smiles, blessed with a perfect communication skills, and above all reads the Hebrew language fluently- hence an inspiration to the younger children. His generosity was in full display, taking proper care of the visiting guests, in the areas of transportation, accommodation, and feeding, throughout the 3 days visit.