By: Abraham Ben Abraham
Introducing Yehudit Bat Yonathan (Guest Writer)
The Bar Mitzvah (for males) and Bat Mitzvah (for females) ceremony represents the liberation of young Jewish children into the realm of adult laws. Prior to the 13th year (for boys) and for the girls (the 12th year), Jewish parents are responsible for any wrongdoing committed by their children. For a young Jewish boy or girl to become Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah therefore means they have become “one to whom the commandments apply.” The celebration of “coming to age” is usually one of the happiest periods in the lives of every Jewish child. Majority grew up recounting the memories relating to the ceremony as they grow into full adulthood.
All Roads Lead to the Rock Of Ages Synagogue Asaba
|Rock of Ages Jewish Synagogue Asaba, Delta State
The journey to the east got underway shortly at the break of dawn. Because we weren’t going by air, it would take us about 8 hours to complete the road trip through the middle belt region of the country. It was on a Wednesday morning and we got a lift from the chairman of the synagogue to the bus station in Kubwa area. We weren’t the only ones hitting the road to Delta State- as Hezekiah was being expected to arrive same day from Lagos. Other members from a number of synagogues in Anambra State would be making their way across the River Niger into Asaba the state capital as well.
One of the most interesting parts of the journey is the fact the Sefer Torah was in our company. Being my first experience, I couldn’t help but cherish the whole moment of the historic movement from the northern region to grace the Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony. Everything about the road trip was perfect because of the presence of the word of G-d in our midst.
By the time we got to Asaba, we were picked up by the Rosh and taken straight to the house. Yonathan Ben Okonji only converted into Judaism about few years ago and currently constructing a permanent synagogue building in the compound since 2010. The Rock of Ages Synagogue is located at No. 8 Onyeka Ikediashi Street, off Temple Clinic, Anwai Road in Asaba.
Meeting the 3 Celebrants
We knew nothing literally about the identities of the celebrants, except that one of them is the second son of the Rosh of the Asaba Synagogue. By the time we settled down into an apartment at one end of the compound, some young boys fetched us some water for washing. One of them is the other bar mitzvah boy who’s currently living in the home of the Rosh. The next person was the daughter of the Rosh, Yehudit Bat Yonathan, and she brought us some food which Sar Habakkuk and I needed so much after the long road traveled.
|Shimuel, Deborah, Abraham Ben Abraham, & Noach
After the super, the Rosh joined us and brought some kola and drinks to formally welcome us to his home. Then came his lovely wife, who cleared the dishes after the brief introduction. They were indeed a loving family with high sense of hospitality. Two other visitors also arrived before nightfall, including Chazzan Iddo from Avaishai Synagogue in Nkpor Anambra State.
It was a long night; one that would not be forgotten in a long time. We sat around a table and talked till it was around midnight. The surrounding was well lighted and the women were still busy in the outdoor kitchen preparing the meal for the festival. We learned about the bat mitzvah girl only that evening, and looked forward to meeting her the following day.
The 3 celebrants are:
- Deborah Obodo
- Noach Ben Michael
- Shimuel Ben Yonathan
Setting A New Record
All three of them appeared in high spirit the following day. The good thing was that we were blessed with a clear and sunny sky that Thursday, unlike the previous day with many hours of rainfall. By the time it was 10AM, people began to arrive at the synagogue including members and other invited guests.
|Hezekiah Moshe during the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Torah Service
Before the opening prayers, Hezekiah and Chazzan Shimuel Iddo assisted the boys in wearing the Tefelin as the custom demands. After the prayers, then it was time for offering, and then followed by the Torah service. Unlike on a typical Shabath, there would be only 3 Aliya for the reading from the Sefer Torah. The first was taken by Sar Habakkuk while the 2nd and 3rd by the two Bar Mitzvah boys.
But the astonishing moment was when Shimuel Ben Yonathan read from the Safer Torah for his ever first time in life. To the amazement of the audience in attendance, his voice roared clearly around the room- piercing the silence inside the synagogue. After the Torah service, the elders present commended the sharp brilliant reading skills displayed by the young lad. Even Sar Habakkuk affirmed this feat the best he has witnessed in a very long while. It was however not surprising when some tagged Shimuel as the next Hezekiah- from the way he managed to read the Sefer Torah without the support of the chazzans standing next to him.
A Re-Union With Ephrahim Ben David (The Jewish Tailor)
|Customized Nigerian-made kippa
My first meeting with the Jewish tailor was during the visit of Professor William Miles to Avishai Synagogue in Nkpor. His years of consistency in the entrepreneurial venture were something that first attracted me to Ephrahim. He has become popular from his making of kippa, tallit, and several other Jewish-branded gift items for both male and female. During the gathering at Nkpor last year, Ephrahim and the visiting professor had some catch-ups to do, after he had gifted Miles a Nigerian-made tallit some years ago.
|Ephrahim the Tailor & Wife, Imma Sarah
Ephrahim was one of the visitors who arrived before nightfall to join Sar Habakkuk and I at the guest apartment in Asaba synagogue. We equally had some catch-ups to do since we haven’t seen this year, and then of course I asked him what’s his next best move was like. At the break of dawn the following day, he showed me all his latest designs of Jewish items he makes. I also finally had to meet his lovely wife, Imma Sarah who co-owns the small business with her husband. He hinted me about his next move to display his goods in an online shop front so he can leverage the power of the internet to reach more people around the world. His efforts have always been focused towards the export of standard Jewish-branded items to any part of the globe.
Unveiling A Superb Artistic Gift At A Very Young Age
The synagogue building under-construction is behind the residence of Rosh Yonathan. So when it was break time, I sat with the young Shimuel who had brightened the hope of the audience few moments ago. It was truly amazing to imagine the greater ability and exploits younger Jews would achieve in the new future.
Sitting in the living room I couldn’t help but admire some piece of drawings hanging on the wall. Unknown to me, all the artistic works seen all over the room were created by the young Shimuel. When he told me he wanted to study architectural engineering when he grows up, I knew he was definitely on the right path with his artistic talent!
|Shimuel displaying one of his favorite artistic drawings
Before we returned back to the synagogue, he had one request to make, which would be his little way of welcoming the Rabbi scheduled to visit Nigeria in the coming months. He planned to present a painting of the Rabbi and his lovely wife upon their arrival to the country for their first time. The presentation would take place on the Flagging off ceremony of the Rabbi Wayne Franklin Guest Quarters in Abuja.
“But I don’t have the photos of the Rabbi or the wife,” I told him. Of course he insisted, and suggested I can get it from the Jewish professor who visited Anambra State the previous year. Surprisingly, I never knew little Shimuel was present at Avishai Synagogue when Sar Habakkuk and I accompanied Professor Miles to Anambra State for the tour around Eastern Nigeria and Cameroon.
Presentation of Gifts
|Sar Habakkuk Ben Yahudah & Eliada Chukwuma Ozoemena
A paper was presented by Elder Eliada Chukwuma Ozoemena, who has become known for his input in the area of presenting intelligent and well-crafted papers during important Jewish festivals around Eastern Nigeria and beyond. He’s a known poet, member of numerous Jewish organizations in Nigeria, a government civil servant, and published author of a number of books.
Then it was time for the presentation of gifts to the celebrants. Sar Habakkuk was well prepared for this as he had personally brought gift items from Abuja all along. He gave out the following Jewish related items in front of the audience:
|Deborah Obodo receiving free JPS Bible in Asaba
- Kippa and JPS Bible each to the bar mitzvah boys
- JPS Bible to Deborah Obodo
- JPS Bible to a former bar mitzvah celebrant
- A Shabath book to Rosh Yonathan and his lovely wife, Imma Okonji Awele Virginia
- A copy of the Passover Haggadah each to the Rosh of Divine Seed Synagogue and Rock of Ages Synagogue
The occasion continued till the early hours of the evening. There were several kinds of food and drinks for everyone making the celebration worthwhile. Although for us, after we had cake, it was time to get going to Nnewi (the home town of Sar Habakkuk) that same Thursday, ahead of the preparation of the Shabath at Nkpor.
Observing the Shabath at Avishai Synagogue in Anambra State
How nice it was to visit the Avishai Synagogue located at the topmost floor of a 4-storey building in Nkpor. The last time I was here was almost nine months ago in the company of Sar Habakkuk and Professor William Miles. Although that was during a weekday, but this time around is on a Shabath day, with the Sefar Torah present in the service.
Chazzan Shimuel Iddo with two other chazzans led the morning prayers (Shacharis) in the front of the small hall. Since it was very important for the bar mitzvah boys to read from the Sefar Torah again, Rosh Yonathan came with his wife and family from Asaba to join the service. The Aliyah as usual on a typical Shabath service was given to seven people. It was a busy moment for the Chazzans who assisted many of those called up in reading the prayers before and after each reading in Hebrew language. But once again, when it was time for Shimuel Ben Yonathan to read the last part of the Parachat- he was again extraordinary! After saying the beginning prayers, all the Chazzans simply retired back to their seats, knowing full well the young man needed little or no assistance in reading from the Sefar Torah.
|Rosh of 4 Synagogues during the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Ceremony
After taking the “bread and wine” at break time, we were all treated to a Shabath meal of rice, stew and fish; by the Rosh, Emmanuel Ikegbunam Ben Abraham and his lovely wife. Elder Yiddo took a brief moment to welcome every person who came for the service at the synagogue. He was full of praise and admiration for how the little Shimuel quickly mastered the Hebrew reading. He prayed that may Hashem reward the parent of the young boy for their efforts in guiding their son to the true path early in life. Sar Habakkuk also used the opportunity to thank this great Jewish parent and requested he would like to see him read again the following Shabath at Divine Seed Synagogue where the Sefar Torah would be going next.
Mincha, Maariv and Havdalah at Yisrael Amika Synagogue Nnewi
Apart from the Avishai Synagogue, we also had the Yisrael Amika Synagogue in our schedule for the day. Sar Habakkuk stressed the importance of the visit to the synagogue to see how the place is moving, especially after the demise of the Rosh. When we arrived the place looked empty except for the chazzan and a very few others. They were happy for the unexpected visit, which kindled the hope that services will continue to hold in the synagogue. The loss of Emmanuel Ben Moshe, the Rosh and founder of the synagogue, indeed created a lot of vacuum that must take collective efforts from other Jews in the state to have a positive outcome.
We joined them for the Mincha prayers, Maariv and stayed back as well for the closing Havdalah prayers. Leaving them with the words of encouragement- Sar Habakkuk challenged them to sustain the glory of the synagogue and continue to keep the place fully functional. He ended by saying that even though the father of the synagogue is no longer with us, it’s the duty of the rest to unit more strongly and keep soaring higher to the glory of Hashem and growth of Judaism in Nigeria.
A Brief Visit to an Oil Mill Workshop in Nnewi
Nnewi is one of the oldest towns in Eastern Nigeria with the highest concentration of production factories in a location, owned by private individuals. It’s known as one of the busiest industrial hubs in the Igbo-dominated Eastern part of Nigeria. The science of production is practically carried out by good number of individuals and family. Therefore to the eyes of many, Nnewi is generally considered as an industrial town.
|Chazzan Yehoshua, David & Sar Habakkuk in an Oil Mill, Nnewi
The day after Shabath, being on Sunday, Sar Habakkuk and I paid a surprise visit to the home of the chazzan of Yisrael Amika Synagogue. His brother who was also a Jew was there to welcome us with everything we needed. The compound was quite a big one with several flower plants and tall trees. Behind the compound, there is a small oil mill owned and operated by the chazzan, Yehoshua Ben Melek Israel. He was trained by the late Rosh, “Emma Shabath,” so which means the duty of keeping the synagogue active and functional is fully rested on this young man.
He took Sar Habakkuk and I around the small locally-built factory, explaining how the machine works. From what we discovered, although he operates the equipment seasonally; but if more capital is injected into the venture it would run all through the year bringing in substantial profit, and one or two additional persons can be employed.
Before we left, Sar Habakkuk encouraged him to remain steadfast both at work and in keeping the synagogue functional. For us, it was going to be a long week till the next Shabath when the Sefer Torah will be taken to the Divine Seed Synagogue located in Neni, Anambra State.
|Jewish mothers and invited guests for the ceremony
5th Visit of the Sefer Torah/Combine Service At The Divine Seed Of Adonai Synagogue Int’l Inc
By Yehudit Bat Yonathan.
Address of Synagogue: Plot 1, the divine seed close along teaching hospital umudioka village Neni, Anaocha L.G.A. Anambra state, Nigeria.
“More than yisrael has kept the Shabbat, it is the Shabbat that has kept yisrael.”-AHAD HA-'AM."More than yisrael has kept the Shabbat, it is the Shabbat that has kept yisrael". Thus did the brilliant Hebrew essayist, AHAD HA-'AM, epitomized the historical significance of the Shabbat for the Jewish people. Nor is Ahad Ha-'am alone in his exalted opinion of the role that the Shabbat has played in the history of the Jews.Even in the ancient times the Shabbat was singled out as the most important of all the festivals. It was only the Shabbat that was included in the Ten Commandments wherein the Hebrew were enjoined to "Remember the Shabbat day, to keep it holy". This was what the Jews in Nigeria did on 21 Elul 5778/ 1st September, 2018. A combined service which comprises of five or more synagogues in Nigeria was held at the Divine Seed of Adonai Synagogue Umudioka village Neni in Anaocha L.G.A. of Anambra state.The prayer started around 8 am and was lead by chazzan Sh'muel Ben Yiddo who was later assisted by the bar mitzvah boys- Nitzach Ben Avraham, Noach Ben Michael and Sh'muel Ben Yonathan. After the morning prayers ( Shacharis), everyone proceeded to the Kiddush area where they blessed the wine, Hallot (bread) and Shabbat meal then they all ate together as one family. In equal vein, Sar Habakkuk educated the flocks during study about the upcoming festivals of Hashem- Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Succot and the importance of the symbolic foods.During the course of study, sar Habakkuk promised to take the bar mitzvah boys to Abuja and train them so they will be perfect in reading the SEFER TORAH. How wonderful to experience different synagogues in Nigeria coming together and worshiping Hashem in this 21st century just like in the ancient times.
As we continue to push towards the establishment of a practical Jewish Settlement Community in Nigeria, there are little preliminary things that could happen beforehand. Hezekiah and I talked much about it at length when we met at Asaba after my earlier interview with him in Abuja concerning his current teaching tour around synagogues in Nigeria.
|Hezekiah Moshe & Chazzan Shimuel
He reiterated his commitment to leverage the internet technology to spread and sustain the growth of Judaism around the country. From the numerous experiences gained from his ongoing tour visiting Jews in their various synagogues, he has been documenting and confirming all the locations of Jewish homes in Nigeria. In the new Tikvat Israel Synagogue Abuja website currently under consideration, there would be a directory of all the synagogues in the country. But for easy access to more Jewish information, Hezekiah said it will be more innovative to create a Mobile Android App (MAA) that would serve as an information directory for all Jews in Nigeria, capable of capturing news about upcoming Jewish feasts, Bar Mitzvahs, Brit Mila, Invitation for Jewish Weddings, important announcements, etc. No doubt, it would be a great improvement as the app will be made free for all Nigerian Jews and others to download and use it at all times.
Finally, I want to use this opportunity to thank all our readers across the world for their continued support, and to those who have contributed cash and materials- we are forever grateful to you all.
Shana Tova once again!
(1) OBSERVING THE PESACH, PURIM AND SHAVUOT WITH THE REST OF THE JEWS ALL OVER THE WORLD
(2) AN INTERVIEW WITH HEZEKIAH MOSHE OF TIKVAT ISRAEL SYNAGOGUE ABUJA ON HIS RECENT TEACHING TOUR ACROSS SOME JEWISH SYNAGOGUES IN NIGERIA
(3) REMEMBERING ELDER IMMANUEL UZOEWULU FOR HIS ROLE IN THE EARLY GROWTH OF JUDAISM IN NIGERIA
(4) THE NEW FACE OF OUR SYNAGOGUE: AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH SAR HABAKKUK BEN YAHUDAH
(4) THE NEW FACE OF OUR SYNAGOGUE: AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH SAR HABAKKUK BEN YAHUDAH