New Judaisms-New Diasporas

New Perspectives on Jewish Identity in the Twenty-First Century


International Conference

20-21 February 2019


Desmond Tutu Centre, Nairobi, Kenya







Wednesday, February 20


9.00 – 9.30 Registration

9.30 – 9.45 Welcome from Dr. Edith Bruder, President of ISSAJ, and Professor Magdel LeRoux, Vice-President of ISSAJ



The Current State of the Study of African Judaism


Chair Magdel LeRoux


10.00 -10.30 Edith Bruder, From Philo-Semitism to Conversion to Judaism in Africa


10.30 – 11.00 Janice R. Levi, New Judaism or Dialectical Incompatibilities: Processes of “-ization” and Exclusion   amongst West African “Jewries” Author |


11.00-11.30 Shalva Weil, The Impact of Globalization on Judaising Groups the World Over


11.30 -12.00 Ahmadiel Ben Yehuda, Is the Paradigm for Approaching the Study of African Judaism Fundamentally Wrong? A Discussion


12.00 -12.30 Eva I. Shaw-Taylor, How can the philo-semitism of newcomers constitute a source of support for the Jewish people and Israel and impact the upsurge of anti-semitism in both global and local contexts?



12.30- 14.00 LUNCH



Going Back to the Roots of African Judaism


Chair   Bat Zion Eraqi Klorman


14.00 -14.30-Magdel LeRoux, Law and ethics among the Lemba and in early Israel


14.30-15.00 Raita Steyn, Gudit a Jewish Queen?



New Diasporas


Chair Edith Bruder


15.00-16.00 Round Table, The Kasuku Community of Gathundia: Becoming Jewish in Kenya in the Twenty- First century, with Kim Yehudah Kimani, Yosef Njogu, Avraham Ndungu.Rut Wangechi

Miriam Yehuda



16.00 -16.30 COFFEE BREAK


Chair Emanuela Trevisan Semi


16.30 -17.00 Aurélien Mokoko Gampiot Conversion Experiences among Black Jews in France: From Christian Identities to Jewishness Dr



17.00-17.45   Film and Round Table Madagascar, Journey to Judaism: by Josh Kristal (12 minutes), presented by Bonita Nathan Sussman and Rabbi Gerald Sussman



Thursday, February, 21


Sociological/Religious Realities: Integration, Confrontations


Chair Shalva Weil


9.30-10.00 Bat-Zion Eraqi Klorman, Yemeni Jewish Immigrants Adapting to Modernity in Israel: Secularism, Tradition and (In)tolerance


10.00-10.30 Irena Vladimirsky, Inclosing/Excluding model: Ethiopian Jews at the Israeli colleges


10.30 – 11.00 COFFEE BREAK


11.00-11.30 Emanuela Trevisan Semi, Ethnocultural and/or religious perceptions of the Beta Israel of Ethiopia during the last century


11.30- 12.00 Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin, Lessons Learned from Somalia: The Case of its last two Jews and how it may help emerging Jewish Identities


12.00- 12.30 Yitzchak Kerem, Israelites and Togo:  New Diaspora or a Passing Phenomenon”


12.30 -13.00 LUNCH


13-14.30 Mesfin Assefa, The West Wellega Beta Israel of Ethiopia, Survivors of the Great Famine



Chair Ahmadiel Ben Yehuda

14.30-15.30 Round Table, On the way to Judaism :The Creation of the Ophir Centre in Nyeri, Kenya with Joseph Kabia, Liza Muthoni, John Macharia, Kinyua Moses Gatama-Elder, Congregation Melek Yisrael.


Chair Edith Bruder 


15.30-17.00 Film Jose Ainouz, The Igbos of Nigeria, 52’


17.00 Closing Session Edith Bruder and  Magdel Leroux






Jose Ainouz, filmmaker, France

Mesfin Assefa, Ethiopian North Shewa Zionist Organisation, Ethiopia

Ahmadiel Ben Yehuda, African Hebrew Israelites, Israel

Dr Edith Bruder, CNRS, France- UNISA, Rep. of South Africa

Dr Aurelien Mokoko  Gampiot, GSRL-CNRS, France

The Kasuku Community of Gathundia , Kenya :Kim Yehudah Kimani,

Yosef Njogu, Avraham Ndungu, Rut Wangechi, Miriam Yehuda

Prof. Yitzchak Kerem, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Prof. Bat-Zion Eraqi Klorman, Open University of Israel

Prof. Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin , Israel and La Universidad de Granada

Prof. Magdel LeRoux, UNISA, Rep. of South Africa

Janice R. Levi, PhD Student, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

The Ophir Centre, Kenya:  Joseph Kabia, Liza Muthoni, John Macharia, Kinyua Moses Gatama-Elder, Congregation Melek Yisrael

Dr. Eva I. Shaw-Taylor, GLITRAC – Adjunct Professor – Morgan State University. USA

Dr Raita Steyn, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Bonita Nathan Sussman, Kulanu, USA

Rabbi Gerald Sussman, Temple Emanu-El of Staten Island, USA

Prof. Emanuela Trevisan Semi, University of Venice, Italy

Prof. Irena Vladimirsky, Achva Academic College, Israel

Prof. Shalva Weil, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel







Edith Bruder

From Philo-Semitism to Conversion to Judaism in Twentieth Century Africa


In the Nyaurhuru province in the highlands of central Kenya, since the 2000’s a community of sixty members have decided to join Judaism and subsequently have decided to position themselves as being part of the Jewish Diaspora. In the course of the twentieth century more than a dozen disparate ethno-religious groups throughout Africa have begun to identify themselves as descendants of the Jewish people and to claim Hebrew or Israelite ancestry. Members of these various ethno-religious communities may number in the hundreds of thousands. To varying degrees, these communities have been striving toward Jewish recognition for some years, expressing the vehement desire to join the Jewish people. In claiming a contemporary Jewish identity, African Jews heralded the phenomenon of African philo-Semitism. In exploring briefly the ancient mythological sub-strata of both the African and Western visions of Jews, the aim of this paper is to explore the variegated mechanisms that led, in some African societies, from an admiration of the Hebrew culture and people to a contemporary symbiosis with Judaism and Jews. In looking at the roots of the movement, its theology, and its messianic vision, I will propose a theoretical framework through which one can characterize the phases of African affiliation with Jews and discuss its impact and consequences on the meaning of Jewish identity in the context of current debates of Jewish anthropology.


Janice R. Levi

“New Judaism” or Dialectical Incompatibilities: Processes of “-ization” and Exclusion   amongst West African “Jewries”


This paper expands on discussions of inclusion/exclusion by the Jewish community, as seen in the 21st century. It examines identitarian terminology that has been used interchangeably to imply an overarching “Jewish” origin for contemporary usage, specifically “Hebrew” and/or “Israelite,” and how these terms complicate the “bio-genealogical approach” to Jewish belonging. Additionally, these terms solicit mythologies of a “Lost Tribe” and are thus dismissed and delegitimized from the global Jewish community, a community that distinguishes itself through a textual record.1 Further, my paper will discuss how a rubric of “-ization” furthers the processes of exclusion by diluting or calling into question an African Jewish identity. 2 Due to skepticism of belonging, the “-ization” provides a bridge to explain the unexplained, undocumented, or perceived illegitimate. “-Ization” points to a socio-cultural transformation predicated on either an acknowledged,3 but more often than not, counterfeit encounter— ultimately producing a “new” manifestation separate from the authentic. Exclusion by “-ization” not only impacts belonging in the Jewish community, but can also create a rejected identity from the African point of view as its reversal can challenge indigeneity. My paper will analyze both dialectical continuities that contest temporal moments of “-ization” while critically engaging with the dialogic editing that may have occurred from these encounters.



Shalva Weil

The Impact of Globalization on Judaising Groups the World over


This paper explores the effects of new media and globalization on the creation of Jewishness among once distant groups the world over.

The new construction of Jewishness can be depicted as a series of acts of negotiation, resulting from  the impacts of globalization, cosmopolitization, hybridization and migration. It can also be construed as a rejection of neo-liberalism and the long arm of democracy. This form of counter-hegemonic globalization focuses upon the struggles of social exclusion. It is therefore not a surprise that many of the groups wishing to join the Jewish fold come from downtrodden, repressed and low-status groups.

The process of becoming Jewish in far-flung locations is often associated with the Judeo-Christian narrative of the Ten Lost Tribes, but not restricted to it. Today, in the age of accelerated globalization, the transfer of identity depends on the translatability of human experience, and connections with other old-timer Jews, who support or condemn the acts of transference according to circumstance. This leads to a re-reading of the past through the lens of present-day narratives. It may involve a desire to ‘decolonise’ Europe and the United States, and a need to produce a new Jewish ethno-history divorced of the Shoah and the European centres of Jewish learning.  In this state of ‘subaltern cosmopolitanism’, ‘lost’ tribes throughout the world are ‘found’ with increasing speed, ‘crypto’-Jews become revealed Jews, and non-Jews become ‘full’ Jews with remarkable alacrity.


Ahmadiel Ben Yehuda

Is the Paradigm for Approaching the Study of African Judaism Fundamentally Wrong?” – A Discussion

In frustration over what he called “the tragedy of the Wall” – the culmination of a controversy over access to the Western Wall in which an orthodox religious hegemony has threatened Jewish unity – respected Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi acknowledged our living “in an era when the most basic consensus about Jewish identity is unraveling”.  Yet Jewish identity has long been an amorphous, fluid and contentious issue, and surely many of the topics raised and investigated by ISSAJ are at the very heart of Jewishness.  Imagine someone in possession of a treasure map, about to set off on a quest for its promised blessings, but who is not properly oriented for his first steps.  It is a search doomed to failure before it has begun.  While many in our field regard the entire biblical landscape as riddled with myth, many also regard Hebraic identity – and its incumbent prophetic promises – with the pinnacle of seriousness.
Being suggested is that the very paradigm by which many approach the study of African Judaism is fundamentally wrong.  The use of European Jewish practices, standards and DNA as the cultural, ethnic and genetic baselines for examining – and wittingly or unwittingly lending support for or undermining the authenticity of the claims of those of African ancestry to Judaic/Hebraic identity – will (like the disoriented and befuddled treasure seeker) skew our search and our findings no less than 180 degrees.  Is such a claim substantive or spurious… and what are its implications for Jewish identity?  A roundtable panel will seek to explore the basis of the argument, discuss its validity and relevance, sort out the issues raised in the claim and counterclaims, and offer us a way forward.
Eva I. Shaw-Taylor

How can the philo-semitism of newcomers constitute a source of support for the Jewish people and Israel and impact the upsurge of anti-semitism in both global and local contexts?


My proposal will examine some of the reason why newcomers may be flocking to Judaism throughout Africa, India and South America to see if these newcomers constitute a source of support for the Jewish people and Israel.  It will also examine whether these newcomers with their own cultural and or previous religious beliefs can adopt Euro-Judaism – accepting to be “welcomed into the fold” through conversion.  Will they serve as a true support against anti-semitism in both global and local contexts or will the feeling of “not belonging” create another issue within the Jewish context.  Do these newcomers turn to Judaism because of philo-semitism or do they find certain aspects of Judaism more fulfilling in their lives expressing a true sense of faith than other religions? Will these newcomers be willing to accept the rigid requirements of conversion or will they feel or become the third group of Jews that may be linked to the Jews of Limpopo, Southern Africa.  With the Ashkenazi and Sephardic differences, will there be a third group “formed” that will be considered not “worthy” thus creating another problem within Judaism?



Magdel Le Roux

Law and ethics among the Lemba and in early Israel


Apparently, laws or traditions, once written down in a culture, become exposed to its world-view and to editing by a redactor or writer, whereupon they are fossilized into set codes. These codes do not necessarily represent the real life-world of a community, but are often those of the editor or the writer. Therefore, they often do not relate to the real way of life. Smart distinguishes between the moral teaching incorporated in the doctrines and mythology of a religion and the real sociological effects on and circumstances of, those who adhere to the faith in question. The purpose of this paper is to refer cursorily to some of the laws and codes used by Lemba communities, as well as to those that occurred in early Israel.



Raita Steyn

Gudit a Jewish Queen?


Foreign and Ethiopian sources agree that there is evidence of a mysterious queen who led an army to destroy the Christian faith in Aksum and put an end to the Aksumite Dynasty. The events of Aksum are mentioned in chronicles and from monuments left behind. The latest research by Andersen and Hendrickx shows that there is no longer any doubt about her existence:  she was indeed a historic empress of Axum. But what about her origin and religion? Some legends point to her as being a Jewess, be it a Falasha or an Agaw converted to Judaism by her husband. Sergew Hable Sellasie points out to a proclamation (in an unpublished Chronicle of Ethiopia) allegedly made by Queen Gudit: “churches should be closed because I am a Jewess and my husband is also a Jew”, after which the Levite priests and Christians were persecuted. Another researcher, Leeman, while referring to the indigenous traditions that surrounded her burial in Adi Kaweh, holds that Gudit’s faith was pagan-Hebraic rather than Jewish. I will re-examine all testimonies on whether, how and why Gudit’s beliefs were fully/partly Hebraic and in how far her actions were inspired by Jewish ideology or beliefs.


The Kasuku Community of Gathundia , Kenya :Kim Yehudah Kimani,

Yosef Njogu, Avraham Ndungu, Rut Wangechi, Miriam Yehuda


The members of the Kasuku Community will present their journey from Messianic Judaism to Judaism



Aurélien Mokoko Gampiot

Conversion Experiences among Black Jews in France: From Christian Identities to Jewishness


One of the die-hard preconceptions attached to Jewish religion is that conversion to Judaism is impossible. However, it has been several decades since people of African descent began embracing Judaism, so that the Jewish diaspora in France now includes a sizeable number of Black members. Among these believers, many are converts from African countries or West Indian islands, who were formerly members of Christian churches, and came to Judaism through a variety of paths and experiences. My study aims to understand their choices, options, and motivations.

In this paper, I will depict their conversion experiences and the impact of conversion on their personal statuses and social lives in France. I will offer a particular focus on their integration into Jewish community life in France.



Bonita Nathan Sussman and Rabbi Gerald Sussman

Journey to Judaism: by Josh Kristal (12 minutes)


Film and Round Table Madagascar



Bat-Zion Eraqi Klorman

Yemeni Jewish Immigrants Adapting to Modernity in Israel: Secularism, Tradition and (In)tolerance


The Jews of Yemen lived in a society, which had not undergone a process of secularization and was late in adopting modern developments. Movements of immigration to the more modernized Palestine began in the late nineteenth century and culminated between 1949 and 1950, when almost the entire Jewish population of Yemen immigrated to Israel. Following immigration, the immigrants encountered unfamiliar secular values and were pushed to modify their cultural and social structures and adopt modern elements, which altered old practices and perceptions.

This paper will examine the Yemeni Jewish immigrant community’s responses to the challenges of modernity and secularism that disrupted traditional customs and affected community life. The discussion will focus on the developments in legal interpretations of Yemeni rabbis in Palestine and then in Israel.  The analysis will suggest that Yemeni rabbis who came from un-secularized Yemen and were educated in the Yemeni tradition expressed a lenient and tolerant attitude towards religious customs. They demonstrated their practicality at adjusting to new cultural conditions in Palestine and in Israel as well as confidence in their religious faith. These rabbis did not need to prove their religiosity by affiliating only with strict religious educational systems or to build fences, in the orthodox fashion, between their community and the rest of the society.

In contrast, social pressures on Yemeni religious leadership, which grew up in Israel and was influenced by the Ashkenazi yeshivot (religious higher education), generated a different outcome. These rabbis tended to focus on halakhic (Jewish legal) argumentation, to follow a more rigorous and uncompromising legal interpretation, and to seclude themselves in religious life, adopting the Orthodox viewpoint and intolerance to members of the community who did not follow meticulously religious law banning them from community practices. In this way, they wished to be accepted by the Ashkenazi religious society to which they strived to belong.

My presentation, which centers on internal debates of a religious community, suggests interpreting religious changes based on the understanding of historical background and on analyzing the impact of social pressures.


Irena Vladimirsky

Inclosing/Excluding model: Ethiopian Jews at the Israeli colleges


In my paper I would like to discuss the model of involving the youth from the Ethiopian Jewish community into the student community. For the last 20 years, I was a member of the special Admission Commission at the Achva Academic College and worked in close interaction with the Ethiopian students as a lecturer, Head of the academic department and a consultant. Special academic track for Ethiopian students was and still is a part of the special program under the auspices of Israeli ministry of Education together with the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption. The period of 20 years is quite long to learn and to study, to analyze the change between the first generation of students who was born in Ethiopia and the second one, born in Israel. For academic staff and consultants it was an intensive period of breaking the existing stereotypes and fights with pure bureaucratic approach to the problem based rather on imaginary than real acquaintance with Ethiopian Jewish community. The program deals not only with problems of absorption and adaptation of Ethiopian students within the student’s community but with a vast spectrum of social (periphery-center, stratification) and political (Zionists-non Zionists, leftists or rightists, secular or religious) problems as well.


Emanuela Trevisan Semi

Ethnocultural and/or religious perceptions of the Beta Israel of Ethiopia during the last century


During the last century the Beta Israel of Ethiopia have been perceived as a Jewish religious group whose religious practices differed from mainstream Judaism while being considered as part of the same ethnoculture sharing the same ethnic origins. And they also have been considered as a different ethnocultural group which adopted the Jewish faith.

In this paper I will analyse the origins, the social milieu and the conceptions of the actors of the various discourses.



Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin

Lessons Learned from Somalia:

The Case of its last two Jews and how it may help emerging Jewish Identities



This paper presents Somali Jewish identity through The Last Two Jews of Mogadishu Living Under Al Shabaab’s Fire 2018. It is an identity, which barely emerged in the written history of the Jews of Africa. The book is based on 305 emails between the presenter and Avraham Mordechay and his mother who lived like anusim in Mogadishu. The book records the travails of living in an Islamic war zone. It raises questions about Jewish identity, the diaspora and Israel, intergenerational trauma as a persecuted minority, the rabbinic notion of Pidyon Shvuim, etc. Even though Somali Jewish identity is relatively unknown, it is a sober reminder as to the obstacles, which these new Jewish identities may face. The presenter argues for a serious need to not only map out these new emerging identities but also to coordinate and anticipate the roadblocks to their acceptance within the global kehila and Israel in particular. These lessons might be helpful toward that endeavor. We also might contemplate how we may help.


Yitzchak Kerem

“Israelites and Togo:  New Diaspora or a Passing Phenomenon?”



Israelite appearance in Togo is part of past migrations from the Gan Kingdom from Sudan that reached North Africa via trade-routes in areas like Touat, and Cyrenaica and eventually headed southward to Ghana, Togo, and Benin. Delafosse theorized that in 118, Jews were persecuted in Cyrenaica by the Romans and reached Touat. The ancient Ghana Empire was founded by white men in ca. 300. Israelites in Togo believe that they descend for the Tribe of Juda, and that they invited descendants of B’nai Ephraim.

Much of the impetus for Israelite consciousness comes from the Yoruba (Bnai Ephraim) tribe in Nigeria, or the Ewe people in the Volta Region in southeastern Ghana, southern Togo, and southwest Benin. The Ewe people spoke Gbe languages. These Ewe or Eves (Hebrews)/Erverh people maybe descendants of Judea and Israel. They practiced circumcision.

In 2016 the US-based “exiled King of Togo” Ayi raised a lot of hopes that there would be a resurgence of native African Israelite kings, and their tribes, from Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroon. He intended to organize a monumental Western Wall service in Jerusalem with 450 Kings, but he was deemed a con man and lost his legitimacy among the Israeli Rabbinate. Ayi had been missionized, like many Israelites, but time will tell if his efforts reflect a move for rapprochement between the Israelites of Togo and neighboring countries and the Jewish people.


Mesfin Assefa

West Wellega province Beta Israelites of  Ethiopia: Survivors of the Great Famine


Ethiopia the “Land of Origins” and the home of an ancient Jewish society reveals a new miracle. The story of the Bet Israelites living in West Wellega Province of Ethiopia, begins at the time of the Ethiopian great famine of 1985 which occurred in the Northern Parts of Ethiopia, especially in provinces of Tigray and Wello.

At the same time the great Israeli “Operation Moses” was taking place. This secret operation moved   more than ten thousand Ethiopian Bet Israelites from the province of Gondar, Tigray and Wello via the Sudan boarder to Israel, without the Ethiopian government knowing. But unfortunately some Bet Israelites families unlucky victim of the Famine, were forcedly moved from their villages of the districts of Lasta , Giza and Wagimhira situated in the northern and western parts of  Ethiopia within the context  of the government resettlement program organized in order to solve the famine problem.

During the past three decades these Bet Israelites being submitted to discrimination practiced their Judaic faith secretly. After long years of struggle, they built two Synagogues in their faraway resettlement villages of Bonne and Dilbee in the West Wellega province of Ethiopia and started practicing their forefathers’ Judaic faith officially again.


Joseph Kabia, Liza Muthoni, John Macharia, Kinyua Moses Gatama-Elder, Congregation Melek Yisrael.

On the way to Judaism: The Creation of the Ophir Centre in Nyeri, Kenya- Round Table


The Ophir Centre has been created in 2018 in order to support the members to learn and advance their quest in Judaism.


Jose Ainouz

Film The Igbos of Nigeria