Observing Shabbat in Gambia
Small Jewish community blossoming in western African country in recent years
Israel’s ambassador to Senegal was very surprised upon receiving an invitation to visit the Jewish community in Gambia. Until recently, there was no such community.
The poor western African country has only 1.8 million residents, 90% of them Muslims. Recently, dozens of Gambia’s residents, who are evangelical Christians, have begun living as Jews.
Although they are not Jewish according to Halacha, Gambia’s “Jews” built a synagogue, in which they read from a Torah scroll in English. Fernando, the community’s founder and rabbi, wears a skullcap and a praying shawl sewn by his Cameroonian wife based on pictures.
Anyone entering the synagogue is asked to take off his shoes, as is customary when entering mosques.
The community members are not interested in making aliyah, but want to be recognized by Israel. They asked Gideon Behar, Israel’s ambassador to Senegal who is also responsible for Gambia, to organize a trip for them to the Holy Land, as well as prayer books and books on Judaism.
“They are ardent supporters of the State of Israel and are filled with admiration and true love towards our country,” says Behar, who visited the community’s synagogue in the Gambian capital of Banjul. “They welcomed me with open arms.”
According to Behar, this phenomenon is growing stronger across Africa. “In western Africa there are traditions ascribing the origin of a significant number of the residents to the people of Israel,” he explains. “And yet, it’s interesting that there is such craving for Judaism in the continent.”