Wednesday, 29 August 2018

THE NEW FACE OF OUR SYNAGOGUE: AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH SAR HABAKKUK BEN YAHUDAH

By Abraham Ben Abraham


Ahead of the journey to the east, announcements were made in the synagogue for two consecutive weeks. So once again, it was another memorable moment to be attending another Bar Mitzvah in Delta State this August. It’ll not be the first time members of Tikvat Israel Synagogue Abuja will be invited to Asaba the capital. There was a Bar Mitzvah around this same period last year, and we attended the ceremony with the Sefar Torah. Indeed it was part of the mission of strengthening the Judaism Network in Eastern Nigeria embarked upon by Sar Habakkuk starting from last year.

Sar Habakkuk during the Bar/Bat Mitzvah in Asaba
 Tikvat Israel Synagogue Abuja has continued to play a lead role- pushing towards a united platform and growth of Judaism. The first thing to notice upon visiting the synagogue located in Kubwa is the New Face of the Synagogue. The ongoing construction has visibly changed and turned the entire compound into a different new look. 

However, before the journey to Delta State I managed to sit down with the Rosh, Sar Habakkuk, to ask him some questions; reflecting on the past, the present, and what’s about to come. 

1. I started by asking him how it all began. What was his early contact with Judaism like?
 
Tracing back to the very start, he recalled it was a brother “Kish” who first introduced him to Judaism in 2003. Although at that time, there were limited numbers of materials available to learn more details about the Hebrew Traditions and majority of the prayers conducted entirely in English language. But everything did suddenly changed with the coming of Rabbi Gorin to Nigeria in 2004, which became the turning point in History that lead to the early spread of Judaism around the Igbo region of Nigeria. “Rabbi Gorin visited me in Kubwa Abuja and spent some few days with us,” he recalled. There was indeed plenty things learned from this great man during the brief moment he stayed with us.

Donations of large copies of Jewish prayer books and other materials, including books written about the history of the Jews was among the remarkable things done by the Rabbi. Other significant impact also made was the building of schools, libraries, and giving the Sefar Torah to a Synagogue in Akwa Ibom State (Southern Nigeria). This is the reason till date I continue to Acknowledge Rabbi Gorin For his selfless contribution to the growth of Judaism In Nigeria.

2. What you do before the switch to Judaism?

Before the switching over to Judaism, I was playing the role of a High Priest under the Messianic circle which was predominant at that time. Animal Burnt sacrifices were common during the early days until he came to the revelation that sacrifices can only be made in the Temple (the place chosen by the Holy One of Israel) according to the Torah. Hence, since the Temple in Jerusalem no longer stands, the idea of abandoning the offering of burnt sacrifice became more understandable.

3. How would you describe the spread of Judaism in Present day Nigeria?

His reply was a brief one- we’re growing every day by the number. The children are also growing and many now being born directly into the faith. How exciting to witness more and more Bar/Bart Mitzvah happening in several synagogues. It’s a true indication that Judaism is on the path of growth in Nigeria. 

4. You began the mission to strengthen the Judaism Network in Eastern Nigeria last year by touring several synagogues in the east with the Sefar Torah. What has been the impact so far?

“The essence of the tour was to identify with other Jewish Synagogues in order to extend a hand of cooperation among the Igbo Jews living in the east and beyond,” he said.  Thanks to the books donated by some of our Jewish friends in America- many beneficiaries were happy to receive these free materials; to boost their knowledge about Jewish customs and traditions. Taking the Sefar Torah which is the symbol of Judaism, to a number of synagogues helped to bind us together and establish the fact of our oneness in Judaism.

      The visit of Professor William Miles to Avishai Synagogue Nkpor and the Sabath Keeping in Beth Shalom Knesset Awka were also part of the mission to strengthen the growth of Judaism in Nigeria and make the Igbo Jews more united. As you know, Hezekiah is also currently on teaching tour- going beyond Eastern Nigeria further into the Southern region and Lagos in the West. So far, the overall impact has been positive and encouraging.
    5. What are the challenges facing most of the Nigerian Jews?

Based on most of my travels around, my findings and from the interaction with the Rosh of several synagogues as well as members both the young and the elderly ones; there are many challenges but let me briefly mention just a few general and the most pressing ones:
Lucy Steinitz At Tikvat Israel  SynagogueAbuja last Yom Kippur

  • Discrimination within the society by others especially the non-Jew
  • Majority of the youths are not gainfully employed
  • Some of the lucky ones who are employed can be subjected to work on the Shabath and other Sacred Feast for fear of losing their jobs
  • Absence of a practical Hebrew school for learning how to read, write and speak the Hebrew tongue fluently.
  • Most of the Synagogues cannot afford to get a Sefar Torah of their own.
  • Many Jewish Children skip the ceremony of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah due to the absence of the Sefar Torah within the location of their Synagogue. 
  • No real Jewish-owned job creation or skill acquisition centers in the country to offer valuable practical training to our Jewish brothers interested in adding value to themselves and enable them adapt economically to an extent.

6.   Do you think it’s about time the first ever Jewish settlement community should be established in Nigeria?

“Absolutely yes, Nigeria is ripe for that and of course it’s long overdue,” he replied.  
There are vast areas of uninhabited lands especially within Eastern Nigeria that can serve the purpose of housing a significant number of Jews living together as one community. We have the growing numbers and the idea of living together, supporting each other, working together in our businesses and putting our kids through the rightful pathways early in life is already being shared by many.
He ended by stating his wish to see this coming into existence in the near future. 

7. Tell me about the ongoing construction project which has indeed given the surrounding of the synagogue a new face.

The ongoing project is indeed a thing of joy to all the members of the Synagogues, and could be completed by the end of November.
The Guest House was initially started by Sar Habakkuk in 2013 and stopped around 2015 due to lack of capital and the need to focus more on the project of expansion of the synagogue's main building. Upon the completion of this visitor's lounge, it would be named as Rabbi Wayne Franklin Guest Quarters.   
  
   8. Finally, I believe there’re a number of people you wish to thank in appreciation for their contribution to the growing success we have seen?


Others I also wish to thank are Daniel Limo for bringing us some Tefelins a couple of years ago. I’m also grateful to Judy Manelis and others for their generous donations of Jewish books that have been distributed in several numbers of synagogues throughout Nigeria.
Also worth mentioning is Lucy Steinitz for the assistance given to Hezekaih while he was on transit in Addis Ababa on his way to Uganda. She was also here in Nigeria last year during the Yom Kippur, conveying some copies of the Hebrew Prayers books.
Others include Michael Freud, Naomi, the former Ambassador of Israel to Nigeria, and many others who have made a strong impact that contributed to the overall successes we have achieved so far. I’m forever indebted to every one of you.

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