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May 3, 2012 1:23 pm

Jews of Nigeria Shine on Screen (VIDEO)

avatar by Elke Reva Sudin

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Igbo children in Nigeria.

Travel to Africa and meet members of the Igbo tribe who identify with Israelite origin, and are embracing Jewish tradition with fervor today. Produced and directed by Jeff Lieberman, Re-Emerging: Jews of Nigeria, follows individual stories and collective histories to paint a picture of the Igbo past and present as told from their perspective.

The film presents Igbo engaged in Jewish practices, i.e. prayers with African tunes, and men performing the mikvah ritual in a river. Historical references include the Igbo journey from Biblical times up to the 1960’s Biafran War, which killed over 1 million Igbo. The journey to connect to Judaism is related in the struggles the Igbo face. Surrounded by colonial influence, the Igbo deal with prejudices from their Christian and Muslim neighbors, and have difficulty connecting to Jews in the West.

Lieberman first heard of the Igbo in 2005 at a synagogue in Los Angeles. The next year he took a plane to Nigeria with a Rabbi helping the community, to meet the Igbo for himself. Within the first 10 seconds, the Igbo community gave him complete trust, and he lived amongst the people, filming for five weeks.

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During his stay, Lieberman met Shmuel and other Igbo who grew up with the tradition that his people came from Israel, and after attaining internet access in recent years, found information about Judaism and began to connect similarities between Igbo and Jewish traditions.

After returning to the US, Leiberman continued his research, exploring the history of the Atlantic Slave Trade where thousands of Igbo slaves were captured and brought to American shores. The story takes us to Ibo Landing in Georgia, where Lieberman explores how many African-Americans currently are descendants of Igbo brought to the United States at that time. Lieberman’s research created a re-contextualization towards African-American roots and how it has evolved to the culture today.

His film stands apart from other Western documentaries on lost Jewish peoples because he lets his subjects speak for themselves. The camera is used to tell the Igbo story from their perspective, rather than imposing foreign views and opinions.

“I really wanted the people to tell the story from their perspective, and not have a ton of ‘white people’ commenting whether that is possible or not. ”

Re-Emerging is very much an independent film, created out of a desire to tell these peoples’ story. Without a budget, or outside help, Lieberman was able to produce the film, using his available resources, committed time, and energy.

The one thing Lieberman did spend money on was an original score commissioned for the film. Lieberman talked to hundreds of composers, and decided on working with Jeremiah Lockwood (of the Sway Machinery) who knew Jewish music more than any of the other candidates, but was also able to do new versions of Jewish music with an African and Nuevo influence, key to the culture and feeling of the film.

Taking place in Africa, Lieberman dealt with technical issues in production. He battled extreme lighting situations, due to a strong sun, and a very dark, electricity free night. (Charging batteries must not have been easy!) Lieberman filmed when he could, catching moments on the fly. He tried to capture as much of the feeling of Nigeria to show that this is the real Africa. “I tried to capture a lot of people’s faces, [that is] something that intrigues me.”

Leiberman has a background in TV specials, news stories, and documentary work for many large television and online networks as well as behind the scenes production on a few major films. Currently, Lieberman is a writer-producer with CBS National News and a video reporter for NYPost.com.

The Igbo asked Lieberman to promise them that he would help get their story told, to be acknowledged that they exist.

Watch the trailer below and join Jeff Lieberman for the premiere of Re-Emerging: The Jews of Nigeria May 17th, 2012 at the 92Y in New York. Advance tickets are available here.

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  • Emma Ayogu

    I have read an inspired book written by the stigmatist Innocent Okorie “the history of the igbos” as was revealed to him by our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no doubt that we are jews, from the tribe of Judah; Jesus Christ is our brother. We came from a clan of the tribe of Judah called SHECHENIGBO; it is around the cities of Bethlehem, Hebron, Azotus, Gaza etc. We are Hebrews

    • james

      I simply do not believe this. I feel that the Jewish state itself is instigating a conflict between the Igbo and other tribes in Nigeria, most namely the Hausas and forming a relationship with the Igbo’s based on kinship claims is one of the ways they are doing it. the goal is to help the US and IMF re-colonize Nigeria for its natural resources.

  • OKORIE,FABIAN

    THE IGBOS ARE JEWS.LATE STIGMATIST INNOCENT OKORIE,WHO HAD THE PASSION WOUNDS OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST FOR YEARS,WROTE THE HISTORY OF THE IGBOS AS WAS REVEALED TO HIM BY OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST AND THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY IN THE 1980S.THIS IS AVAILABLE ONLINE FREE.OUR ORIGINAL NAME: SHECHENIGBO .THERE ARE STILL SOME SURVIVING HEBREW WORDS IN OUR PRESENT IGBO LANGUAGE.TOWNS AND PLACES,LIKE EDDA,AFIKPO ETC .CIRCUMCISION ON THE 8TH DAY AND SO MANY OTHERS.WE WANT TO CONNECT BACK TO OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN ISRAEL.MOST OF US HERE ARE UNHAPPY WHEN THEY ARE UNHAPPY AND REJOICES WHEN THE DO REJOICE.AS THE SAYING GOES”BLOOD IS THICKER THAN WATER”FOR ONE REASON OR THE OTHER SOME OF US ARE AFRAID TO SHOW THEIR JEWISHNESS .THIS IS WRONG.MAY GOD HELP US TO FULLY CONNECT TO OUR ISRAELI KINSMEN .SHALOM

  • Ebiz

    What a moonshine! What a figment! We Igbo are approaching the irredeemable indeed. There is not one proof or evidence of our Jewishness. We are coastal Bantus in the branch Niger-Congo group. The glib gist that we are of Israelite origin is a lie. It is a sentimental corn bread that will add to the psychic confusion that has been eating up the our mind since the end of the 1960s. A full-blooded Fulani, being of Tuareg-Arabic derivation, is semitic, and therefore genetically closer in relation to ancient Israelites than us Igbos. We Igbos are negroid. Of course spiritually, an Igbo is Jewish provided that he/she is practising Judaism.
    The people that champion this lie need to do some re-thinking. And I wonder what explanation they have for the fast rate of conversion of Igbos to Islam these days.

    You have permission to publish my email: zebiz@hotmail.com.

    • Josh Arinze

      Ebiz,

      Your rant is rather baseless and — I dare say — ill-informed. You should just let the facts speak for themselves. You describe as “a lie” the case that the Igbo have Jewish origins. Can you prove it to be a lie? No you can’t. You may want to read the works of Olaudah Equiano (see “The Interesting Narratives of Olaudah Equiano”) and G.T. Basden (see “Among the Ibos of Nigeria”) who made the exact same case many, many years ago — as far back as the late 18th century, in the Equiano instance. Both books are still very much in print, if you’d bother to read them — look for them on Amazon.com. In other words, I suggest you calm down and let those qualified to do so continue with their research on this very important topic. Mr. Lieberman has made a positive contribution to the discussion. Stop denigrating his good work. (By the way, note that I’ve used my real name, standing fully behind the point I’m making here.)

    • OKORIE,FABIAN

      I AM VERY SURE THAT YOU ARE NOT AN IGBO MAN.PLEASE STOP THIS.IT IS LEFT FOR THE IGBOS TO SAY WHO THEY ARE AND NOT YOU.MAYBE YOU ARE AMONG THOSE WHO ARE AFRAID TO IDENTIFY WITH THEIR ISRAELI KINSMEN.

  • Fredric M. London

    This is wonderful! Marvelous! G-d bless them! There is precious little good news in this world, so this story is a ray of light in its importance.

    A Bi Geshundt!

    • Ubagwu, charles

      There is a wonderful book written by an Igbo man – “The History of the Igbos”, – an inspired work by a stigmatist, Brother Innocent Chima Okorie. Please read this book with an open mind and you’ll never have any reason to doubt our origin.

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