|William Miles and Sar Habakkuk
When the news of his planned visit was announced in the synagogue, it was greeted with shouts of joy and excitement. Professor William Miles has been seen as a very close friend of the synagogue, haven attended quite a number of Jewish festivals here with us at Tikvat Israel Synagogue Abuja. Even before gracing the occasion of Hezekiah’s Bar Mitzvah in 2011, he was part of the Hanukkah celebration in Abuja two years earlier. Indeed, memories of that Bar Mitzvah is still fresh in our minds- with guests in attendance from the United States and friends from some synagogues in Eastern Nigeria.
Tikvat Israel Synagogue Abuja has enjoyed a great friendship over the years with Jews in the US and Israel as well. Lucy Steinitz was here during the last Yom Kippur, bringing donations of Jewish prayer books on behalf of Kulanu. A large number of these books would be distributed in various synagogues by Sar Habakkuk Nwafor who will be accompanying Professor William on the tour around Eastern Nigeria scheduled in December 2017.
|Photo with the King of Nnewi
It was a long road trip from Abuja through the middle belt and across the River Niger into the East. The remarkable thing about this visit was that it would be the first time Professor William will be venturing beyond Abuja into the very heartland of the Igbo people. Although he has visited Nigeria many times in the past, his movement has been restricted only in the northern parts of the country. However, this maiden visit was a call to strengthen the Judaism movement by meeting and interacting with fellow brothers in several synagogues in the east.
The first place of call was the palace of His Royal Highness, King of Nnewi, Igwe Kenneth Onyemaeke Orizu III. Sar Habakkuk led a small team made up of some Jewish members through the gates into the palace of the king. They were welcomed by the king who was thrilled of the visit of a Jewish professor at that time of the year. As a gesture of total acceptance, they we offered kolanut by the king who prayed that the purpose of the tour around the Igbo land would have a positive outcome at the end. He ensured the visitor of maximum security and urged him to freely move around and learn the much he can about the Igbo people during his short period of stay in Nnewi, the home town of Sar Habakkuk.
That same day, being the Day one of the tour around Anambra State, two synagogues were visited by Sar Habakkuk and Professor William. One of the synagogue is located right there at Nnewi (Beney Yisrael Synagogue) and the Divine Seed Synagogue in Neni, a small village at the outskirt of Nnewi. How exciting it was to have the visiting guest from the United States- signifying a sense of unity between the Jews in America and Nigeria. Members of the synagogues expressed their happiness when Sar Habakkuk presented free Jewish materials to enhance their practice and worship in Judaism. The materials given out included copies of the JPS Bible, Encyclopedia Judaica, and the Jewish Prayer Books.
|Emma Sabbath and William Miles
In Beney Yisrael Synagogue, Professor Milles received Igbo traditional gifts which included chieftaincy cap, long beads, and a locally-made shirt. To mark the visit of the two Hebrew guests, the synagogue presented kolanut, fruits, drinks, and plenty things to eat. In his speech, he relayed the message from his Rabbi in America, Rabbi Franklin, and also presented some gifts to the synagogues. At the end of the long busy day, it was time to retire back to the home of Sar Habakkuk to take a rest and prepare for the next day. The schedules for the following day (Thursday) include the visit of Professor William Miles to Avishai Synagogue in Nkpor, and another synagogue in Nnewi, Kevot Melek.
After the Shabbat keeping in Beth Shalom Knesset Synagogue Awka, in the capital of Anambra State, the two Hebrew men drove straight to the palace of the legendary king of Igbo land in Aguleri. Being on a Sunday, it was by a twist of luck to be allowed into the throne room of the King, His Royal Majesty, Eze Chukwuemeka Eri who has been on the throne for over 46 years. We were thrilled to find pictures hanging on the wall showing the king’s numerous trips to the United States where he visited a number of Jewish organizations on the agenda of recognizing the Igbo people as descendants of one of the tribes of the Israelites.
|B Miles, Sar Habakkuk, His Majesty the King in Aguleri
Sitting right beside the throne with the king, he offered kolanut and a Naira note as a symbol of welcoming his guests. Without much hesitation, he took quite some moment to show us around the palace, explaining the events of the past which is symbolic to the culture and history of the Igbo people. Then he instructed his son, Prince Chukwuemeka, to show us the “Wonder Tree” which was the burial site of the first king of the Igbo origin. We were surprised to find out that the “Wonder Tree” was made up of three separate giant trees with their root visibly joined together and have been inseparable for over 2,500 years!
|Abraham Ben Abraham, W Miles, Sar Habakkuk, Chief Isimmili
When we returned back to Nnewi that afternoon, it was time to pack our luggage ahead of the next trip the following day which involve crossing the border at Ikom (Cross River State, Southern Nigeria) into Cameroon. The visit to the throne of King Chukwuemeka signaled the end of the tour around Anambra State. Which means that the historic maiden visit of Professor William to the Eastern region of Nigeria started from the palace of the King in Nnewi, and ended in the palace of another king in Aguleri.