One year later: A personal letter from Elder Azuka (Pinchas) Ogbukaa and Elder Ovadia Agbai

Special thank you to Shai Afsai for sharing Elder Pinchas and Elder Ovadia’s letter with (401)j.

In September 2013, Rhode Island’s Jewish community was visited by Elder Ovadia Agbai, leader of Abuja’s Gihon Synagogue, and Elder Pinchas Ogbukaa, its spokesman, on an invitation extended to them by Congregation Beth Sholom and Temple Emanu-El. While in Rhode Island Elder Ovadia Agbai and Elder Pinchas Ogbukaa celebrated Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah, and interacted with the Rhode Island Jewish community. From their stay here Elder Pinchas and Elder Ovadia were able to gather firsthand information about how our community functions and interacts in the hopes they could bring this information back to the Igbo community in Nigeria to help their established community there and combat its present isolation

There are some 2,000 to 5,000 members of the Igbo ethnic group practicing Judaism in Nigeria. Self-identifying as members of a lost tribe of Israel, and not having undergone a formal conversion, these Nigerians’ have limited communal interaction with Jews outside their country.

This letter is a follow-up to (401)j’s previous article, August in Abuja.

(Left to right) Rabbi Wayne Franklin, Elder Ovadia Agbai, and Elder Pinchas Ogbukaa speaking to students at Temple Emanu-El’s Religious School. Photo Credit: Shai Afsai

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is about one year, since we, Elder Ovadia Agbai and Pinchas Ogbukaa, departed Rhode Island on the 30th of September, and arrived [back] in Abuja, Nigeria on the 1st of October, 2013 . . . The great joy from this august visit remains alive and fresh, as if it were just a few hours ago, and shall prolong into the distant future . . .

One of the biggest difficulties that hitherto beset the Igbo-Nigerian Jews was total isolation from other Jewish communities around the world. But with the benefits of that wonderful outing [to Rhode Island], our hopes and confidences are limitless with assurance that the doors are now widely open for our contact, connection, interaction and relationship with other Jewish communities around the world, without hold-backs.

We wish to express our love, profound gratitude and thanks to our beloved brother, Shai Afsai, whose visit to us in Abuja, Nigeria during Purim of 2013 engendered efforts that culminated in this unforgettable visit of ours to Rhode Island. We so much appreciate and extol his concern and care, zeal and doggedness, at making the trip possible. We pray HaShem will keep and preserve him for us and for greater works than this, and reward him abundantly in due time.

Our special thanks, gratitude, and prayers go for Rabbi Barry and Naomi Dolinger, of Congregation Beth Shalom, Rabbi Wayne and Anne Franklin [of Temple Emanu-El], and Rabbi Elan Babchuck of Temple Emanu-El. Noteworthy is the wonderful relationship between Rabbi Wayne Franklin and his assistant, and their devotion to the course of Torah. We have so much to learn and emulate from these people.

Great and most profound regards also go to Professor Loïza Miles and to Professor William Miles of Northeastern University, whose interaction with Abuja Jewry and book Jews of Nigeria: An Afro-Judaic Odyssey opened wide the doors and way of this reaching out.

Special regards and devoted mention is hereby made of the following families: Rabbi Raphie and Tichye Schochet; Professor Will and Dr. Aliza Krieger; Marvin Stark and Miriam Abrams-Stark; and Amihud and Nancy Bassel . . . We thank Rabbi Marc Mandel [of Touro Synagogue], especially for taking of his time to take us round the oldest synagogue in the United States at Newport.  We are grateful to the president and other staff of Touro Synagogue . . .

Elder Pinchas Ogbukaa and Elder Ovadia Agbai present gifts to their hosts, Karen and Nate Beraha. Photo credit: Shai Afsai

The following personages also, must not be denied mention and reckoning by us: Adam Tilove – Head of the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island; Matan Graff, (whose name we remember with “Matan Torah”); Rabbi Dovid Schwartz (rabbi of Sha’arei Tefilla); Rabbi Michelle Dardashti (rabbi of Brown RISD Hillel) and her students; Marshall Einhorn (Executive Director of Brown RISD Hillel); Barbara and Ferrell Klein – President of Congregation Beth Shalom; Barry and Miriam Bessler; Eran Hornick; Ilene Perlman (a wonderful photographer and professional to the core); Brian Mayer – Hazzan [Cantor] at Temple Emanu-El; Marc Adler – President of Sha’arei  Telfilla; and all others, whom time and space may not conveniently permit us to acknowledge and mention one by one. We greatly and gratefully appreciate all of you.

Our hosts, Nate and Karen Beraha, wear the crown of this letter. You are very kind and wonderful hosts, full of Jewish hospitality and care.  We enjoyed our stay in your beautiful home and wish for reciprocation someday. Thank you very much, and may HaShem visit his favor and tender-mercies upon you.

. . . We pray that such times as this, relationships and connections of this sort, be maintained and sustained,  and even be made stronger among us, the members of Abuja-Nigeria Jewry, you – the Jewish community of Rhode Island – and other Jewish communities elsewhere in the world . . .

Shalom,

Elder Ovadia Agbai

Azuka (Pinchas) Ogbukaa

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