Shabbat at Synagogue Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus, Miami, Florida

Through the good offices of Kulanu Inc’ I got connected to Cantor Gaston Bogomolni, the cantor of Synagogue Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus, Miami.

Last Shabbat I attended service at the synagogue. The cantor kindly invited me, and sent an uber to get me from my location.

I arrived shortly after the service had started. Shown the way in by the Shabbat goy, I walked in, picked up a tallit, siddur and a Torah, and took a seat.

Quite a few things struck me about this “shul” (“obi”). There are a few persons that looked like they were of African extraction. Everybody was friendly. Everybody smiled as they passed. And Cantor Bogomolni who was leading the service when I came has a great voice. His voice was so golden that the first chance I had, after the service I told him that I’d like him to record some Igbo synagogue music.

This congregation granted me the honor of closing the Ark after the Sefer Torah had been replaced after the reading.

After the service the cantor, his amiable wife Marcela Gomez and I joined the others to retire to what we call the “social center” at the Igbo synagogues in Abuja and other parts of Nigeria, for food.

From that point I got my “humus” and other delicacies and sat down these great ladies-they must be in their eighties commandeered me, and the questions began to come. They wanted to know as much as possible about the Igbo. I did my best to give them what I chose to call the “other Jewish history.” They were fascinated, and kept saying that they could not wait for when I would come to address the synagogue formally. We were in this very happy mood when one of them who had missed part of the gist because she had gone to get more food returned, and very politely asked me how I knew that I was Jewish. Smiling, I responded, “Ma, exactly how you knew that you were one was how I knew that I was one.” We all burst into good-natured laughter.

They wanted to know about Omenana (Igbo culture). I told them that I married under an “okpukpu” (canopy) as they did. I was circumcised on the 8th day as all Igbo males have been traditionally, and as I ensured that my son underwent. I also told them that we mourn for seven days and that the principal mourners sit under an “owoko” (mourning tent), as they do. And that on the 30th day after the deceased had passed on that we observe a memorial service as was observed for the father of the prophets, Moses. They were amazed and so was Cantor Gaston and his wife Marcela.

Bogomolni has invited me for the main event, to speak, and at which I will meet the rabbis: Rabbis Mario Rojzman and Edwin Farber, and the president Steven Scheck.

As Gaston and Marcela took me home we discussed Igbo synagogue and cultural music, and about working towards co-operation between their synagogue and some Igbo synagogues.

I am very happy that I honored the cantor’s invitation.

By Remy Ilona


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.