Igbo Speaks Out at the Jewish Africa Conference in New York

At this very well attended conference which took place from the 27th to the 29th of January, and which was organized by the American Sephardi Federation, and Mimouna Association, in New York I delivered a paper.

One of the aims of this conference was to get Jews from Africa to speak for themselves. As a sort of representative of the Igbo people who consider themselves to be native to Israel, and their lands in the south of Nigeria, I delivered a paper.

Among other things, I said, ‘Igbos are genealogical descendants of the Israelites of the Bible, and Omenana which is what the Igbo way of life is called, is the oldest Israelite way of life.’ Omenana is the term for both Igbo culture and religion. It means “culture that is to be observed in the land.” After saying this I went further to demonstrate that in the Bible God and Moses presented the faith of biblical Israel as Omenana, i.e., as a way of life that the Israelites will observe in the land.  In addition I said that in the next fifty years there may be more Igbos who are practicing Rabbinic Judaism than all Jews put together. Lastly I put out a call for Igbos and Jews to stage a rapprochement, to discuss their shared future.

This led to intense discussions between me and many of my fellow conferees. What I said has huge implications both for Jews, Christians, and everyone who has interest in ancient and modern Israel, and the Bible. It would for example mean that ancestors of modern Jews practiced the religion called Omenana, which is dominant in the southern part of Nigeria presently, but which was given at Mt. Sinai, to the Israelites.

Addressed at this conference too were the suffering the Igbos passed through in Biafra. Academics are still discussing what happened. Answers are still being sought for the following question: did war crimes which took over 3million Igbo lives amount to genocide? In “The man fighting for independence of the West African nation of Biafra… from a flat in Peckham” published in The Telegraph of 21 January 2017, Colin Freeman observed:

“Angered by the massacre of tens of thousands of Igbos in the Muslim-dominated north, Biafra formed its own army, produced its own currency, and declared independence.  The Igbos, who often describe themselves as the ‘Jews of Africa’, wanted their own Israel. They got something closer to holocaust.

Also the fate of Ethiopian Jews was a hot topic. Many speakers discussed their struggles in Israel.

Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and Adama Dieng, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, delivered opening and closing remarks, respectively.

Was this conference of import? Yes, even as the conference was still going on, on January 29th, 2019 Josefin Dolsten of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) published a story about it with the title, “African Jewish communities get some mainstream recognition after years on the margins.”

About the Author
Remy Ilona, is a PhD candidate at the University of California, Riverside, where he also functions as a teaching assistant. He is also the secretary-general of Hebrew-Igbo people, an Igbo socio-cultural organization. He is also an author of 10 books. He is of Ibo or Igbo extraction, and a lawyer by training, as well as a historian of the Ibo. He is among the leaders shepherding the Ibos re-emerging Judaism.