Shavei Israel, an Israeli-based organization that encourages people of apparent Jewish descent to connect with Israel and the Jewish people, hosted members of Nigeria’s Igbo Jews in a Zoom webinar Wednesday for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic halted routine international travel, according to the press release from the group.
Dozens of members of the Igbo Jewish community participated in the seminar, which focused on Jewish belief and practice, religious items and other guidance and support.
The press release notes that there are about 70 Igbo Jewish communities in Nigeria, with the biggest and oldest in the national capital of Lagos. Most of these communities maintain a place of Jewish study or synagogue where members father for daily prayers and Shabbat. A small minority of 4,000 among approximately 42 million ethnic Igbo practice Judaism and claim to be descendants of a Lost Tribe of Israel.
Igbo Jews have also claimed a connection to the Jews of the Bilad al-Sudan, which have historical ties to Sephardic Jewish communities in North Africa. Nevertheless, the Israeli government and most diaspora Jewish organizations have yet to recognize Igbo Jews.
“This Zoom class marked the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus that the Igbo Jewish communities across central, western and southern Nigeria were able to come together, at least virtually, and learn more about Judaism,” said Shavei Israel Founder and Chairman Michael Freund.
He added that “we felt it was important in advance of Shavuot to bring them together and break down at least temporarily some of the walls that social distancing has created. I was very moved by the participants, which included young and old alike, all of whom have a real and sincere thirst for Jewish knowledge. The event was a great success and we plan to continue with additional classes.”
Shavei Israel has organized seminars in the past for Igbo Jews, but due to the coronavirus, were forced to continue seminars on Judaism via Zoom.
"It was absolutely amazing! It was great for the communities to meet with each other. They have been apart for a long time because of the Coronavirus so it was great for them to see each other and know they're all okay, to bring them together in this way,” said Gadi Bentley, Shavei Israel’s emissary to Nigeria.
“It was seven communities and five individuals in different places. In Africa, and Nigeria in particular, it's very hard to connect, but we made it work. People really listened to the shiur. It was perfect and great," he noted.