Rabbinical Students Fan Out Across Central Africa
Students from the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s newly established rabbinical school spread out across central Africa overto connect with area Jews and a cluster of communities throughout the continent. Traveling by boat and plane to Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Namibia, Gabon, Pointe-Noire and Brazzaville in the Congo Republic, and Nairobi and Mombasa in Kenya, they hosted public lightings and holiday events throughout the region with the backing of of Central Africa.
Rabbinical studentBentolia, who traveled around the Congo over Chanukah, lit candles with residents and spoke with them about both the holiday and Judaism in general.
“That’s the point of Chanukah, to reach out to the outside, reach out to the Jews who are not aware of their Judaism and those who can’t practice it because of technical reasons,” he said. “They’re in Africa, [but] they can’t forget.”
Like his seven fellow rabbinical students, Bentolila was there to help those he came in contact with learn and help them connect with the holiday’s traditions. The goal was to meet other Jews and share with them ways Judaism can help improve their lives, and to inspire them to do as many acts of goodness and kindness as possible.
Many of those he met were Israeli and French, with some working in the agriculture, fishing, diamonds or construction industries. In Pointe-Noire, he said by way of example, the community just built a synagogue in the home of a religious Israeli Jew, though it doesn’t yet have ascroll. And in Brazzaville, there are a group of Israelis that gather for the .
“There’s no synagogue, but they just try to keep as much of Judaism as they can,” related Bentolila.
The students received warm welcomes, he said, adding that they spent the week handing out menorahs, which residents were happy to get, and helping Jewish men don the prayer boxes known as.
“There are two Jews that are starting to put on tefillin every day,” Bentolila said of Pointe-Noire. And in Brazzaville, one man is similarly giving it a try. “We came and we encouraged them to do more; that’s the way it works.”
In nearby Namibia, Dovie Aizenman was busy setting up a circumcision for the grandson of a Cuban businessman he had met, whose grandson lives in Mexico and hadn’t yet had one.
“Hopefully we’re going to celebrate ain Mexico,” he said.
Aizenman also met a man who didn’t know he was Jewish until they started chatting randomly on the street. The encounter will lead to acelebration for the man at his home.
Other unexpected connections included meeting a traveling family from Sydney, Australia, that was invited to a Chanukah party, an elderly Russian Jew who had never put on tefillin, and an elderly woman who said she never imagined she would be sitting in Namibia with so many people at a Sabbath meal.
“Events such as these bring people out,” said Aizenman. “People come and get involved. That’s simply amazing.”