Three filmmakers were arrested in Nigeria while documenting the story of what they believe are the lost tribes of Israel. Their harrowing ordeal with the Nigerian authorities is over but their mission goes on as the saga of the Igbo and the return of the lost tribes continues.
In July, Rudy Rochman, Edouard David Benaym and Andrew (Noam) Leibman, were arrested while filming a documentary, We Were Never Lost, in southeast Nigeria about the Igbos. The authorities suspect the three of supporting Biafran separatist groups. The three made public statements before and after the arrest that they “do not take any position on political movements as we are not here as politicians nor as a part of any governmental delegations.”
During the Nigerian Civil War of 1967–1970, the Igbo territories seceded as the short-lived Republic of Biafra and continued a non-violent struggle for the independence of a Biafran state. The campaign, which is calling for the secession of the former Eastern region of Nigeria, is a group that calls themselves the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and represents 50 million Igbo. The IPOB has been outlawed and is led by Nnamdi Kanu, who identifies as Jewish and is a British citizen, who has been living in exile in undisclosed locations since 2017.
Rochman is a dynamic Israeli-Jewish rights activist who has made a huge impression on social media with over 178,000 followers on Facebook, over 50,000 subscribers on YouTube, and almost 95,000 followers on Instagram. Rochman is focusing his talents now on reconnecting lost Jews with Israel.
The Igbo are one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa with population estimates ranging from 20 to 50 million. They are native to present-day south-central and southeastern Nigeria. Most of the Igbo are Christian but there is also a small population of Igbo Jews, some of whom merely identify as Jews, while others have converted to Judaism.
The Igbo claim that they are one of the lost tribes of Israel, more specifically from Eri, Arodi and Areli, the sons of Gad and the grandsons of Jacob.The ten lost tribes were the ten of the Twelve Tribes of Israel that were said to have been exiled from the Kingdom of Israel after its conquest by the Neo-Assyrian Empire circa 722 BCE. After researching the subject and spending time with the Igbo, Rochman accepts their claim.
“The Jews are the descendants of the tribe of Judah but there are several other tribes that were scattered during the diaspora,” Rochman said. “But even if we don’t look at it like this historically if we look at it instead Biblically or spiritually, it also talks about this happening. The Bible talks about how in the times of the Messiah there will be a unification with the tribes of Israel that have been lost and disconnected.”
“We already know that the lost tribes will come back from the four corners of the earth<’ Roichman said. “But we know from Jacob’s blessing of Judah that he will be the one that preserves the Torah for his brothers. The brothers did not lose Torah in their lifetimes so this is clearly foreshadowing the future.”
As Jews, the descendants of Judah, we need to do this; to give the Torah back to the tribes that got disconnected from it,” Rochman said.”It’s not a coincidence that these conversations are popping up now since we are clearly in the times before Messiah. That is why these people are looking for us now.”
Rochman emphasized that there are many communities like the Igbo al around the world that claim heritage from Israel.
“These are our brothers and sisters and there are injustices that are taking place,” Rochman stated emphatically as his motivation. “The question is not being addressed.”
The return of the lost tribes was associated with the concept of the coming of the Messiah.
“Thus said Hashem: I am going to take the stick of Yosef—which is in the hand of Efraim—and of the tribes of Yisrael associated with him, and I will place the stick of Yehuda upon it and make them into one stick; they shall be joined in My hand.” Ezekiel 37:19
The Igbo’s aspirations to express their Jewish identity are harshly suppressed by the Nigerian government. In 2008 an estimated 30,000 Igbos were practicing some form of Judaism. The religious practices of the Igbo Jews include circumcision eight days after the birth of a male child, the observance of kosher dietary laws, the separation of men and women during menstruation, the wearing of the tallit and kippah, celebrating the New Moon, and the celebration of holidays such as Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. In recent times, the communities have also adopted the celebration of holidays such as Hanukkah and Purim.
In November 2020, the Nigerian army destroyed six synagogues and killed 50.
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