JEWS IN THE AFRICAN DIASPORA
In New York City in the 1970's this photograph was as iconic as the Statue of Liberty. It spoke to the broad appeal of Levy's Jewish Rye bread across a diverse cultural demographic. That point was driven home by the image of a young boy who, by appearance, "couldn't be Jewish" enjoying a sandwich made with Levy's Rye. While it sold bread, it also had the effect of further embedding the stereotype that there are none of African descent among the Jewish people.
This multi-faceted project is a photographic study of the migration of Jewish people into the African continent.
I began my research with the Ethiopian Jews or the Beta Israel. In November of 2013 I traveled to Israel to conduct my field study of the contemporary life of a little known community with an often contested history. In 2015 I advanced my study in Zimbabwe to record the story of the Lemba. Approximately 2,500 years ago, a group of Jews left Judea and settled in Yemen. They belonged to the House of Bubah from the tribe of Levi. In Yemen they built a city called Sena and were known as the BaSena (the people from Sena). Around the 10th or 11th century a major flood forced the evacuation of Sena and they were led into Eastern Africa. Once in Africa, the tribe split into 2 sections. One group settled in Ethiopia and the other venturing further south along the East Coast settling in what today is known as Tanzania, Kenya and further south to Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
It is estimated that the total Lemba population may approach 100,000. Although they speak the same Bantu languages as their African neighbors, many of the Lemba’s practices are similar to those in Judaism. Among their beliefs is an avoidance of pork and other dietary prohibitions in the Torah, they strictly hold one day of the week to be holy in a manner similar to the Jewish Shabbat and place a Star of David on their tombstones.
Legend has it that the Mwenye or Lemba could be he builders of the Great Zimbabwe, the legendary fortress in Southern Africa.
Of particular interest is the extraordinary finding of the Cohen modal haplotype among the male Lemba population. Its presence in the Y chromosome identifies a connection to the Cohanim or Jewish priesthood. .
It is believed that it was the Lemba that built the Great Zimbabwe, the legendary fortress in Southern Africa. The next phase of this effort will investigate one of Nigeria's largest ethnic groups, the Igbo. Generations of Igbo have passed down stories of a migration related to Gad, the seventh son of Jacob whose three sons are said to have settled in present-day southeastern Nigeria. This project is being made possible through the generous support of the Efroymson Family Fund.