Friday, 14 December 2012

In Nigeria, 'A Very Jewish ... Very African' Community

I just learned the full meaning of the "Nigerian Scam"

"Being welcomed by and embraced by Igbos, who take Judaism so seriously ... it raises the question of what it means to be a Jew," says William Miles.

Three years ago, Miles, a self-proclaimed semi-practicing Jew, decided to celebrate Hanukkah in Africa's most populous country. He wrote about his experience in a new book called Jews of Nigeria: An Afro-Judaic Odyssey. He tells NPR's Tell Me More host Michel Martin that he found "a very Jewish community, but also a very African community."

The Igbo are an ethnic group in the southeast of the country. Miles explains that a long oral history connects them to one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel. "The tribe of Gad made its way all the way to West Africa, and they have been preserving ancient Israelite Hebrew traditions ever since, and so they claim they are just rediscovering their old roots," he says.

But based on his experience, Miles explains, there is more to the recent embracing of their beliefs.

"Even though they claim that they're going back to their ancient roots, it's only in the last couple of decades that they are actually practicing as Jews in a way that is recognized in global Judaism," he says.

It's this commitment that Miles feels should raise questions for him and others in the Diaspora who "don't really feel that it's that important to practice Judaism." He claims that "if any Jew has the privilege to spend time with this Igbo Jewish community ... they would acknowledge that they have a lot to teach Jews around the world what it means to be Jewish."

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