From a young age growing up in Nigeria, Shmuel consistently heard that the Igbo people were Jews. Elders told the story of the Igbo originating in the foreign land of Israel and descending from a forefather named Eri. Yet, two centuries of Christian Colonialism prevented him and many other Igbo from exploring that connection further.
A few years ago, the Internet arrived in Shmuel's town and using an old, dial-up computer, he began comparing Igbo traditions with Hebrew traditions. What he found was a multitude of similarities between culture, ritual, language, worship and history. It set him off on a journey to discover his true identity, but like many Igbo, often led him down the wrong path into the worlds of Messianic Judaism and Sabbatarianism.
Today, as Igbos all over Nigeria shake off the strong hold of British Colonialism and Pentecostal Christian influence, they are returning to their native ways & embracing Judaism in that equation. Synagogues are sprouting up across the nation, and the unique sounds of Hebrew prayer mixed with African music can be heard emanating out of villages, over-crowded neighborhoods and palm tree-covered forests.
As Shmuel finally discovered a community of rich Igbo Jewish culture, he faced another challenge – his family. In this fervently religious country divided equally among Muslims and Christians, the emergence (or re-emergence) of a Jewish community has been met with scorn, family rejection and often violence. Seeking solace from the Western Jewish world has been fruitless. But, with an Igbo population of over 25 million people, and a continuing stream of individuals embracing Judaism, this movement has the potential to re-define Judaism. It also has already begun to raise questions of cultural identity for countless African-Americans, a large percentage who were once Igbo.
Years after Shmuel's initial discovery, life changed dramatically when an American rabbi came to visit. Having heard of this congregation, Rabbi Howard Gorin brought Judaica and a Torah. Yet, the most enduring gift was simply the love and acknowledgement of a revered brother. Inspired by the rabbi, Shmuel now pursues a chance to attend rabbinical school, hoping to one day lead his people in the teachings of his ancestors.
The film will premiere in Spring 2012.
More info at re-emergingfilm.com