Shavei Israel: Jews Around the World -- Black, Latino and More

INDEX/TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Introduction
Shavei Israel
Communities Shavei Israel is Helping
~ Bnei Anousim (spread widely)
~ Bnei Menashe (India)
~ Lost Jews of Italy
~ Subbotniks (Russia)
~ Amazonian Jews (Peru)
~ Bnai Moshe/Inca Jews (Peru)
~ Lost Jews of Poland
Other Dispersed Jewish Communities of Note
~ Mexicali Jews (Mexico)..... Lagagy Jews (Madagascar)
~ Krymchak Jews (Crimea).. Rusape Jews (Zimbabwe)
~ Bukharian Jews (Asia)...... Timbuktu Jews (Mali)
~ Mountain Jews (Asia)........ Cameroon Jews (Africa)
~ Georgian Jews (Asia)........ Uganda Jews (Africa)
~ Afghan Jews (Asia)........... Laikipia Jews (Kenya)
~ Pakistani Jews (Asia)........ Kasuku Jews (Kenya)
~ Indian Jews (Asia)............. Igbo Jews (Nigeria)
~ Iraqi Jews (Asia)................ Lemba Jews (Zimbabwe)
~ Romaniote Jews (Greece).. Donmeh Jews (Turkey)
Sources
Related Links

INTRODUCTION

Following the failure of the second revolt against the Romans and the exile, Jewish communities could be found in nearly every notable center throughout the Roman Empire, as well as scattered communities found in centers beyond the Empire's borders in northern Europe, in eastern Europe, in southwestern Asia, and in Africa. Farther to the east along trade routes, Jewish communities could be found throughout Persia and in empires even farther east including in India and China.

The 1492 expulsion from Spain by the Catholic Monarchs forced the Sephardic Jews to hide and disperse to France, Italy, England, the Netherlands, parts of northwestern Germany, other locales in Europe, and the Ottoman Empire. European Jews have traditionally been classified into three major groups: the Ashkenazim, or Germanics, denoting their Central European base; the Sephardim, or Hispanics ("Sefarad" meaning "Hispania" or "Iberia" in Hebrew), denoting their Spanish and Portuguese base; and Mizrahim, or Easterners ("Mizrach" being "East" in Hebrew), denoting non-European Jewish communities that have re-established themselves in Israel [1].

Smaller Jewish groups include the Georgian Jews and Mountain Jews from the Caucasus; Indian Jews including the Bene Israel, Bnei Menashe, Cochin Jews and Bene Ephraim; the Romaniotes of Greece; the ancient Italian Jewish community; the Teimanim from the Yemen; various African Jews, including most numerously the Beta Israel of Ethiopia; the Bukharan Jews of Central Asia; and Chinese Jews, most notably the Kaifeng Jews. Despite the evident diversity displayed by the world's distinctive Jewish populations, both culturally and physically, genetic studies have demonstrated most of these to be genetically related to one another, having ultimately originated from a common ancient Israelite population that underwent geographic branching and subsequent independent evolutions [2].

SHAVEI ISRAEL

The organization SHAVEI ISRAEL reaches out to lost and hidden Jews around the world. From Poland to Peru, and Barcelona to Brazil. Shavei Israel aims to help descendants of Jews reconnect with the people and State of Israel. They open the door to all who have decided that Judaism and a return to the Jewish people are central to their identity. Click here to visit the Shavei Israel website.

In order to rejoin the Jewish people, three elements are needed: Knowledge, emotion, and living the Jewish experience. These three fundamentals are the secret of returning to the Jewish people, according to Shavei Israel. Active in over nine countries, Shavei is specifically working on the following initiatives:
1) Helping Bnei Anousim (Marranos) whose ancestors were compelled to convert during the Spanish Inquisition 500 years ago;
2) Helping Descendants of one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel such as the Bnei Menashe in India;
3) Reconnecting the Jews of San Nicandro and the Bnei Anousim of Sicily and southern Italy;
4) Helping the Chinese Jews of Kaifeng;
5) Reconnecting the Subbotnik Jews whose forefathers embraced Judaism two centuries ago in Russia;
6) Helping the Jews of the Amazon communities of South America;
7) Helping the Inca Jews of Trujillo in Peru; and
8) Helping reconnect the hidden Jews of Poland to their heritage.



COMMUNITIES SHAVEI ISRAEL IS HELPING

BNEI ANOUSIM: In the last 5 to 10 years a growing number of [Sephardic] Benei Anusim have been established in Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and in Sefarad [Iberia] itself as organized groups. The Jewish Agency for Israel estimates the Sephardic Bnei Anusim population to number in the millions, with its total population actually more than four times the size of the total world Jewish population as a whole [3].

BNEI MENASHE: The Bnei Menashe are made up of Mizo, Kuki and Chin peoples, who all speak Tibeto-Burman languages, and whose ancestors migrated into northeast India from Burma mostly in the 17th and 18th centuries. Most of them reside in India's Northeastern border states of Manipur and Mizoram, but many have recently moved to Israel. They claim descent from the lost tribe of Menasseh.

LOST JEWS OF ITALY: The San Nicandro Jews descend from a group of Italian Roman Catholics from a small village, led by Donato Manduzio, who underwent conversion to Judaism in Fascist Italy after World War One. Bnei Anousim of Sicily and southern Italy are descendants of Jews who converted to Catholicism after being expelled from Spain in the 15th century. Sadly, many of their relatives were murdered in the Holocaust.



SUBBOTNIK JEWS OF RUSSIA: A religious census in Russia from 1912 recorded 12,305 'Judaizing Talmudists', 4,092 'Russian Karaites', and 8,412 Subbotniks who 'had fallen away from Orthodoxy' [4]. The Subbotniks developed their beliefs in the 18th century, but were forced to concealed their religious beliefs and rites from Orthodox Christians due to fear of persecution. In addition to observing the Sabbath on Saturday and practicing circumcision of boys, many Subbotniks began to slaughter their food animals according to the laws of shechita. Some clandestinely used tefillin, tzitzit, and mezuzot, and prayed in private houses of prayer. As their practice deepened, some acquired Jewish siddurs with Russian translation for their prayers. The hazzan read the prayers aloud, and the congregants prayed silently; during prayers a solemn silence was observed throughout the house. During the Holocaust, thousands of Subbotniks in areas of Ukraine were murdered by Nazi soldiers and local Ukrainian collaborators due to their Jewish self-identity. During the First Aliyah at the end of the 19th century, thousands of Subbotniks settled in Ottoman Palestine to escape religious persecution due to their differences with the Russian Orthodox Church. Now, Shavei Israel seeks to help additional Subbotnik communities relocate to Israel.

AMAZON JEWS OF SOUTH AMERICA: Amazonian Jews are the mixed descendants of Moroccan Jewish communities in Belem, Santarem, Manaus, Iquitos, Tarapoto and many river villages in the Amazon basin in Brazil and Peru. Some have formally returned to Judaism, made aliyah and now live in Israel.

INCA JEWS OF PERU: B'nai Moshe are converts to Judaism originally from Trujillo, Peru. They are also known as Inca Jews, a name derived from the fact that they can trace indigenous Amerindian descent, as most are mestizos (persons of both Spanish and Amerindian descent) though none with any known ancestors from other Jewish communities. Most have made aliyah, converted under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and now live in Israel. A few hundred others are awaiting conversions.

LOST JEWS OF POLAND: Prior to the outbreak of World War II, Poland was home to more than 3,000,000 Jews. Ninety percent of Polish Jewry was annihilated in the Holocaust, and post-war Communist oppression caused many of Poland's remaining Jews to flee. Those who stayed often had to hide their identities. An increasing number of Poles have begun to discover their families' Jewish roots. Among them are young people whose Jewish parents or grandparents were put up for adoption with Polish families and institutions in desperate attempts to save them from the Nazi onslaught seven decades ago. Raised as Polish Catholics, many have only recently learned of their true Jewish identity, leading them to play an active role in re-establishing their Jewish identities.

OTHER DISPERSED JEWISH COMMUNITIES OF NOTE

MEXICALI JEWS: After leaving Spain, families of conversos settled in Acapulco, Vera Cruz, Campeche, Oaxaca, Puebla, Guadalajara, Morelia and Mexico City because they provided the most opportunities for mercantile activity. Their descendants are now rediscovering their Jewish roots in Mexico.

KRYMCHAK JEWS: Krymchaks and Crimean Karaites are Turkic-speaking Jews of the Crimea and Eastern Europe. The Krymchaks practice Rabbinic Judaism, while the Karaim practice Karaite Judaism. The Krymchaks speak a modified form of the Crimean Tatar language, called the Krymchak language. Before the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Krimchaks were at least bilingual: they spoke the Krimchak ethnolect and at the same time mostly used Hebrew for their religious life and for written communication. Recently excavated inscriptions in Crimea have revealed a Jewish presence at least as early as the 1st century BCE, and the Krymchaks are probably descended from Jewish refugees who settled along the Black Sea in ancient times.

BUKHARIAN JEWS: Jews from Bakharia are also called Binai Israel and resided in Central Asia (Krygyzstan). Bukharan Jews used the Persian language to communicate among themselves and later developed Bukhori, a distinct dialect of the Tajiki-Persian language with certain linguistic traces of Hebrew. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the great majority have immigrated to Israel or to the United States (especially Forest Hills, New York), while others have immigrated to Europe or Australia. Approximately 3,000 Jews still live in Bukharia, Azerbaijan and no Jews live in Tajikistan.

MOUNTAIN JEWS: The Jews living in Azerbaijan, Chechnya and Dagestan -- the descendants of Persian Jews from Iran -- are called Mountain Jews or Caucasus Jews. The Mountain Jews community became established in Ancient Persia, from the 5th century CE onwards; their language, called Judeo-Tat, is an ancient Southwest Iranian language which integrates many elements of Ancient Hebrew. It is believed that they had reached Persia from Ancient Israel as early as the 8th century BCE. Some 1,500 Mountain Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. They continued to migrate east, settling in mountainous areas of the Caucasus. Today, Mountain Jews are primarily concentrated in the cities of Makhachkala, Buynaksk, Derbent, Nalchik and Grozny in North Caucausus; and Quba and Baku in Azerbaijan. With a population of nearly 4,000, the city of Qirmizi Qesebe in Azerbaijan is the largest Jewish settlement in the world for Mountain Jews. Some of the Mountain Jews have relocated to Moscow, Israel, or the United States.

GEORGIAN JEWS: Jews are one of the oldest communities in Georgia, tracing their migration into the country during the Babylonian captivity in 6th century BC. Prior to Georgia's annexation by Russia, the 2,600-year history of the Georgian Jews was marked by an almost total absence of anti-semitism and a visible assimilation in the Georgian language and culture. The origins of the native Jewish population of Georgia is not clear. Most of the Jews of Georgia have now relocated to Israel, with between 10,000 and 13,000 Jews still living in Georgia.

AFGHAN JEWS: Records of a Jewish population in Afghanistan go back to the 7th century. Before the arrival of Islam in Kabul, Kabul and Gandhara were trading places for Jewish merchants. The Afghan Jewish community has disappeared since the 1950s due to gradual emigration to Israel.

PAKISTANI JEWS: There was a thriving Jewish community in Pakistan particularly around the city of Karachi but also in other urban areas up north such as in Peshawer, Rawalpindi and Lahore. The origins of the Jewish community was mixed with some being Bene Israel, Bukharan Jews and Baghdadi Jews. At the time of the Partition of India and Pakistani independence, some 1,300 Jews remained in Karachi, most of them Bene Israel Jews observing Sephardic Jewish rites. The first real exodus of Jewish refugees from Pakistan to Bombay and other cities in India came just prior to the creation of Israel in 1948, when Jew hatred spread throughout Pakistan. By 1953, fewer than 500 Jews were reported to be in all of Pakistan. However, in the 2013 elections in Pakistan, 809 people listed themselves as Jewish. The majority of the Jews from Karachi now live in Ramla in Israel, Mumbai in India and Toronto in Canada.

JEWS OF INDIA: In addition to the Bnei Menashe of northern India, discussed above, several other groups of Jews live in India. They include the Bene Ephraim -- the Telugu-speaking Jews of Kottareddipalem in Andhra Pradesh, India; the Cochin Jews from southwestern India, most of whom live in Israel; and the Bene Israel of Mumbai, who mostly live in Israel as well. These latter two groups had ancestors who moved to India as Jews, and carried on Jewish traditions for many generations. The first group, the Bene Ephraim, claim to be descendants of the Tribe of Ephraim, and have been practicing Judaism formally since the 1980s. They live in harsh conditions of poverty and are the poorest Jewish community in the world. Their population numbers around 350 Jews and are located on the southeastern coast of India's Andhra Pradesh province.



IRAQI JEWS: The first Arabic-speaking Jews arrived in Iraq in the 18th century, but lived there only for a brief period due to religious discrimination. Iraqi Jewish communities now live in Singapore, India, Burma, and China. No Jews currently live in Iraq.

ROMANIOTE JEWS: The Romaniote Jews were a Jewish community who lived in Greece and neighboring areas for more than 2,000 years. Their languages were Yevanic, a Greek dialect, and modern Greek. Large communities of Romaniotes were located in Thebes, Ioannina, Chalcis, Corfu, Arta, Corinth, and on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Rhodes, and Cyprus. The Romaniotes are historically distinct from the Sephardim, who settled in Ottoman Greece after the 1492 expulsion of the Jews from Spain. Tragically, most of the Romaniote community was murdered in the Holocaust. Today approximately 4,500 to 6,000 Jews remain in Greece. Of these, only a small number are Romaniotes, who live mainly in Thessaloniki, Ioannina, and Athens. Other Romaniote Jews migrated to Israel or the United States.

MALAGY JEWS: Over a ten-day period in May 2016, the island of Madagascar, off the southeast coast of Africa, was home to a remarkable transformation as more than 100 people underwent Orthodox conversions. The group, called Malagasies, claim descent from one of the Ten Lost Tribes, but may descend from Muslim merchants or Portuguese sailors with Jewish ancestry who settled on the island before 1600. Jewish symbols, Hebrew, and hints of a Jewish past can be found throughout the island. Community members dress modestly, observe the laws of nidah (family purity) and do their best to keep kosher -- although without a kosher butcher or tradition of shechita (ritual slaughter), most are vegetarians.

RUSAPE JEWS: There is a community of self-proclaimed Jews centered in the village of Rusape, about two hours from Harare, Zimbabwe. The Rusape Jews claim to be spiritually, though not genetically, descended from one of the lost tribes of Israel. The Rusape community have built their own “tabernacle” about seven kilometers out of town, where they come together to pray. They follow the same holidays as Western Jews, are learning Hebrew, and are devoted to the Jewish laws and culture that stems from the Old Testament. The community numbers several thousand individuals. The Rusape Jews believe, further, that all Bantu peoples are descended from the 10 lost tribes of Israel. To support this theory, many customs observed by Bantu and Jews are cited: burial of the deceased in caves and the taking of an older brother's wife if he is to die, among others.

TIMBUKTU JEWS: There are approximately 1,000 people with alleged Jewish roots in Timbuktu, Mali. They arrived in the 14th century fleeing persecution in Spain, and migrated south to the Timbuktu area, at that time part of the Songhai Empire. Connections to Jewish practice for the community includes: the families have continually given newborns Jewish names; some members sign their names with a Star of David; some Hebrew songs are still sung; and they only marry among themselves, not a custom in Islam. The community in Mali established an organization to assert their friendship with Jews around the world in 1993, calling the organization Zakhor.

CAMEROON JEWS: In 1998, a group of evangelical Christians in Cameroon decided they no longer wanted to practice Christianity and turned instead to Judaism, embracing Old Testament practices from the bible. The Cameroon community calls itself Beth Yeshourun and is very small, with only 60 members in total. The group continues to maintain Jewish traditions and customs to this day.

UGANDA JEWS: In 1917, a sect led by Semei Kakungulu, a Ugandan military general, developed a religious belief that included practice close to Judaism. He circumcised his children and gave them Hebrew names. His followers became known as the Abayudaya ("People of Judah" in the native Luganda language). At one time the community numbered 3,000, but after religious persecution consisted of a core group of 500 who practiced in secret. The community now has its own Torah and a Conservative rabbi, Gershom Sizomu, who was ordained at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism. Sizomu is a fourth-generation Abayudaya. He grew up in Nangolo, a tiny community some five miles from Nabugoye. The community now has five synagogues and two Jewish schools.

LAIKIPIA JEWS: In the sprawling plains of Laikipia district -- Mailo Inya, near Nyahururu, Kenya -- a group of about 3,000 Kenyan Jews has existed for 65 years. They have a rabbi, Stephen Mbatia, and speak Hebrew and read Torah. Mbatia says the Jewish community was started in 1962 after a group of 20 people started receiving instructions on how to practice Judaism by mail from Jerusalem. Since then, the community has grown and can no longer fit in the original synagogue in Mailo Inya, which could seat 50 people. Mbatia says that there are about 40 synagogues with 1,000 adults under his auspices.

KASUKU JEWS: The 60 members of the Kasuku Gathundia Jewish community are sprinkled across these Kenyan highlands, eking out a living as subsistence farmers during the week by raising cows and maize. On Saturday mornings, they unwrap an old United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism humash -- a bound copy of the Torah (not a scroll) -- from a canvas bag and read the weekly parsha, partly in Hebrew and partly in the local Kikuya tribal language. The Kenyan Health Ministry refuses to allow the Jewish community to circumcise their boys at eight days, believing it is a barbaric practice. That means the community must go to Uganda for the ritual. The community is content with upholding their Jewish traditions in Kenya, and are now seeking the funds to build a synagogue.

IGBO JEWS: They call themselves the Benei Yisrael, but are part of a larger ethnic group known as Igbo. Most Igbo Jews live in an area which straddles the River Niger in Nigeria. The Igbo Jews are said to have migrated from Syria, Portugal and Libya into West Africa around 740 CE. It is claimed that the initial immigrants were from the biblical tribes of Gad, Asher, Dan, and Naphtali. The Igbos circumsize their sons, observe kosher dietary laws, and celebrate Jewish holidays. There are currently 26 synagogues of various sizes. Some researchers estimate there may be as many as 30,000 Igbos practicing some form of Judaism, however approximately 2,000 make up the "core" group that rejects all Christian doctrine.

LEMBA JEWS: The Lemba are an allegedly Jewish people in southern Africa, many living in modern day Zimbabwe and Malawi. The community as a whole numbers close to 70,000. Although they speak the same Bantu languages as their African neighbors, some of the Lemba's religious practices are similar to those in Judaism. Their tradition suggests they may have migrated to Africa from the Jewish communities in Yemen. According to the oral history of the Lemba, they had male ancestors who were Jews who left Judea about 2,500 years ago and settled in a place called Senna (probably in Yemen), later migrating into East Africa.

DONMEH JEWS: A hidden Jewish community exists in Turkey called the Donmeh and descend from the false messiah Shabbetai Zvi. His followers were forced to convert to Islam, along with the false messiah, in the 17th century. Though many of them have assimilated into Turkish society, several thousand of them still reside in cities such as Istanbul and Izmir. Until today, some of these Sabbateans preserve various Jewish customs, such as celebration of the festivals, study of the Zohar, and even reciting portions of the book of Tehillim (Psalms) each day. They also follow the Eighteen Commandments handed down to them by Shabbetai Zvi, which includes an absolute prohibition on intermarriage.

SOURCES

[1] Johnson, "A History of the Jews", p. 237.

[2] "Jewish and Middle Eastern non-Jewish populations share a common pool of Y-chromosome biallelic haplotypes." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 97 (12): 6769-74. LINK: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC18733/.

[3] Moshe, ben Levi, "La Yeshiva Benei Anusim: El Manual de Estudios Para Entender las Diferencias Entre el Cristianismo y el Judaismo." 2012.

[4] Dynner, Glenn. "Holy Dissent: Jewish and Christian Mystics in Eastern Europe." 2011.

RELATED LINKS

-
Shavei Israel: Other Communities

- Kulanu: Other Communities

- JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa

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