Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Jewish Community of Sefwi Wiawso, Western Region, Ghana….



For centuries, a community located in a rural and remote area of Ghana known as the Sefwis, have been practicing a religion unique to any of those around them. Only in the last twenty years, did they discover that the religion they’ve been following all this time was Judaism. They also discovered something even more profound: They weren’t alone. Millions of people around the globe were following the very same religion.

From the Four Corners of the Earth takes us through the Sefwis’ journey of self-discovery – not just the journey of their past, but the journey they are about to embark on: their very first trip to Israel.

Kofi leading services in synagogue


Our first phase of production will focus on the Sefwis' telling their story - their journey of discovering their Jewish roots. It will also paint a vivid picture of their life today. We will explore how Judaism has shaped who they are, their understanding of the world and their place within it.
We will have a small 2-person crew on this phase of production which will take place over 3 weeks.
Our first phase of production also includes key interviews with experts in African Jewish history and past visitors to the Sefwi Wiawso community.

Please read the rest of this text and watch the film clip via:

Modern mainstream Judaism has been practiced in Ghana since a group of people from the Sefwi tribe has established ties to worldwide Jewry in the late 20th century and have thus received educational materials about modern Judaism and vital texts such as Tanakhs, Siddurim, etc. The community traces its return to normative Judaism to an individual known as Aaron Ahomtre Toakyirafa.[2] In 1977, Toakyirafa had a vision that the Sefwi people, a tribe of which he was a member, were one of the Lost tribes of Israel. He believed that the Sefwi practiced rituals and had a theology that was unlike that of the surrounding population. He concluded that these customs were of Hebraic origin. For example, they avoided the consumption of pork, or pig-like animals, and observed a day of rest on Saturdays, which also happens to coincide with the Jewish Shabbat. Additionally, males were circumcised 8 days after birth, a custom that is identically practiced by Jews all over world.[1] The custom of separation of man and woman during female menstruation was also observed among members of the Sefwi tribe. More recently, the community, largely based in Sefwi Wiawso and Sefwi Sui has been receiving a steady flow of Jewish visitors from the worldwide Jewish community. These visitors have been bringing Jewish objects and educational materials and many have been writing about the community, bringing them to the attention of Jews the world over.

It’s interesting.... a lot of what’s written above [pertaining to Jewish custom], is very mainstream –Ghanaian.

" For over a hundred and fifty years, a pocket of Ghana’s population located in the Western Region were following customs that differed from the majority: circumcising boys eight days after birth, holding the sabbath on Saturdays rather than Sundays, separating women and men during times of menstruation. Whether by sheer fluke or through some unrecorded cultural exchange, it happens to be that these customs are also held by Jewish people. Further reading suggests that these customs arrived in Ghana with the migration of “crypto-Jews” from Ivory Coast (Ghana’s neighbour to the west) over 200 years ago. The crypto-Jews of Ivory Coast were said to be migrants from Mali fleeing persecution around 400 years ago."

"For many decades, the Jews of Sewfi believed they were the last remaining Jews in the world. It was not until the late 1980s, that one of the Ghanaian men travelled to the capital of Accra, and ask the government officials whether there were other Jews. The Ghanaian Jews were surprised to discover there were millions of other Jews in the world. The community had to travel to the Ivory Coast, to contact the Israeli government. The Israeli embassy provided the community with one Torah Scroll and a single siddur, prayer book.
During the late 1990s a man by the name of Michael Gershowitz from the Tifereth Israel Synagogue in Des Moines, Iowa arrived at the Ghanaian community to learn about their history. Through support of Tifereth Israel, Gershowitz was able to provide the Jews of Sewfi with an additional 200 prayer books. In honor of the Tifereth Israel Synagogue of Iowa, the Sewfi community has named their synagogue "Tifereth Israel" in honor of the generous Des Moines congregation.
On March 26, 2004, Bar Dahan was the first Ghanaian to become a Bar Mitzvah.
The community's goal is to build a Jewish school for the children of Sefwi. Recently, 40 acres have been acquired from a local tribesman, but not enough funds have been produced to start construction. Some of the children have learned Hebrew songs and phrases, but are forced to go to local Christian schools due to the lack of a Jewish one.
In November 2012, after a four-story mall collapsed in Accra that killed three and injured over 50 people, the Israeli Air Force sent a plan carrying medical personnel, engineers, and communication experts to help Ghana pick up the pieces of the tragedy. A Magen David Adom team was also sent to the region.
Also in November 2012, the Israeli government lent $217 million to the University of Ghana to build a 600-bed teaching hospital in Legon. Once completed, the hospital will feature state-of-the-art trauma and emergency services, a heliport and internal medicine department, Surgery, Obstetrics and gynaecology, pediatrics, cardiology, heart surgery, and medicinal imaging. The Sheba Medical Centre in Tel HaShomer, Israel will provide assistance to ensure that Ghana's new teaching hospital measures up to global standards in medicine and health. The facility will provide Ghanaians and people in the sub-region the opportunity to access excellent medical care in Ghana."

To read more about this fascinating community visit here:


1 comment:

  1. Well the costumarry practice of cercumsition and women staying away from a husbands bed during menstruation is part of a Ghanaian culture .my mother grew up in a house that practiced these things. She could not cook or do anything for her father during those days. My mom is only six seven nd not jewish