If you thought the wonders of the Internet were best characterized by videos of cats on treadmills and Words With Friends, consider the experience of Shmuel Tikvah ben Yaacov. The web introduced him to his heritage.
Shmuel, an Igbo (pronounced Ebo) from Southeastern Nigeria, grew up understanding that he was Jewish, but he knew little religious and cultural history. (Tradition has it that the Igbo are descendants of Gad, founder of one of the lost tribes of Israel.) But when the Internet came to Nigeria, Shmuel began researching, and what he learned convinced him of his Jewish heritage and inspired him to help build the country’s small Jewish community.
Writer/director Jeff L. Lieberman’s Re-Emerging: The Jews of Nigeria is a fascinating portrait of a group that, until recently, had little contact with Jewish communities around the world. Despite a lack of resources and the Israeli government’s disinclination to recognize the Igbo as Jews, Shmuel and his fellow community members are committed. And after a visit from a sympathetic American rabbi, Shmuel reveals his dream: to attend the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Despite the visa difficulties that ensue, Shmuel is determined to become a rabbi: “The community here needs my service.”
May 10, 2013