Sub-Saharan Shabbat: Meet the first-generation Jews of Ghana
The shopkeeper stands in front of a prosperous Jewish shop in New Adiembra, Sefwi Wiawso district, where many Ghanaian Jews work.
CREDIT: Anna Boiko-Weyrauch
In 1974, prompted by the vision of an itinerant preacher, Joseph Armah and several other members of the Sefwi tribe in western Ghana declared themselves the descendants of one of the lost tribes of Israel. This wasn’t as arbitrary as it sounds; for centuries, though unfamiliar with Judaism, the tribe had followed Jewish practices, performing circumcision a week after an infant’s birth, observing Shabbat, and excluding pork from their diet.
Their conversion raises interesting, if familiar, questions about who can legitimately call himself a Jew. But for Armah’s children, those questions don’t really matter. They are among the first generation of Ghanaians to be raised Jewish, and as such they must navigate for themselves what that means on a daily basis. Anna Boiko-Weyrauch spent a weekend with the Armah family, and sent us this dispatch.