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When the Internet was introduced into the more rural parts of southeast Nigeria, as it has done for so many people around the world, it opened the eyes of a few young Igbo people and began answering some difficult questions of identity.  For Shmuel (who was then called Sam), the nagging question he wanted answered was whether there was any truth to the long-told lore that the Igbo people were once Jews.  He began by comparing Hebrew traditions to Igbo traditions, and what he found astounded him.  The similarities were so convincing that it sent him off on a journey in the quest to find other Igbo who might be practicing Judaism.

"RE-EMERGING: The Jews of Nigeria" is a journey into the heart of Igboland and into the lives and culture of the Igbo people.  The film introduces the world to the many synagogues that dot the land, and a handful of passionate, committed, and diverse characters – each striving to fulfill their historical legacy with few resources and unbeknownst to most of the world.  Individual stories are woven together with key facets of history, tracing the Igbo from Biblical times up to the brutal 1960s Biafran War, which killed over 1 million Igbo.  A wide range of American academics help detail this history, including shedding new light on the Igbo origins of thousands of slaves captured during the Atlantic Slave Trade and brought to American shores.  The film delves into this history and travels to the southeast coast of Georgia, where locals still speak of the Igbo spirit... at a riverbed called “Ibo Landing”.

The individuals featured in the film also demonstrate that incredible Igbo spirit. Shmuel is a young man whose story exemplifies the journey toward finding Judaism.  Today, he is a leader in his community who teaches and chants Torah, and has big dreams of one day becoming a rabbi.  But like almost every Igbo, he grew up surrounded by Christian colonialism, and the road to discovery has been fraught with misunderstanding, wrong turns into Messianic worship, family exile, violent prejudice from both Muslim and Christian neighbors, scorn from Jews he has contacted in the Western world, and frustration of a lack of funds to further educate himself through Internet access.  Yet, it's also been an amazing discovery of community, and furthered with the love of an American rabbi who has been working with both him and the larger community to see their dreams become a reality.

"RE-EMERGING" challenges the boundaries between faith and color, and engages viewers to think about ancestry, identity, race, diversity and acceptance.  From screenings held around the world, communities have been inspired to discuss and take action.  With most of the world’s tension evolving out of religious and ethnic difference, this remarkable people could shed some well-needed light on the road to peace, and the origin of us all.


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Read Jeff Lieberman’s Travel Journal 
from his time in Nigeria