The first traces of Judaism in Ghana appeared in 1976, thanks to a Ghanaian man
named Aaron Ahomtre Toakyirafa. Living in the community
of Sefwi Sui in Western Ghana, Toakyirafa had a vision
and "spoke with spirits" driving him to believe
that he and his fellow Ghanaian's were indeed descendants
of the Lost Tribes of Israel. He saw
a clear connection and many similarities between his
peoples practices and those of Judaism. For example,
it was a tradition in Sewfi for Saturday to be a day
of rest. Such a strong tradition that Sewfi that didn't
adhere to it were frequently punished. Sewfi also followed
the Jewish dietary
law restricting the consumption of pork. Members
of the male community were circumcised in youth. Toakyriafa was first viewed as crazy but over
time his vision became more and more readily accepted.
Toakyirafa's certainty about his ancestery
only grew as he traveled to the Ivory Coast. He studied
the history of the population of Sewfi. The Sewfi had
traveled south to Ghana but had come through what is
now the Ivory Coast. He was convinced that the Jewish
community of the Ivory Coast had migrated there from
other documented Jewish communities.
of Israel Community, Sefwi Wiawso
After his trip to the Ivory Coast,
Toakyriafa began educating the Sefwi Sui and Adiembra
communities about their Jewish hertitage. He taught
them Jewish practices
and traditions, integrating Judaism into their lives and preaching the study of Judaism to others. They called themselves the House of Israel.
The House of Israel was not accepted
in Adiembra, a community neighboring Sefwi Sui. Christians
violently abused and imprisoned House of Israel leaders.
Most of Adiembra member of the House of Israel moved
Aaron Ahomtre Toakyirafa died in 1991.
Many thought that the Sewfi community and all of the
Judaism that had been taught would just fade away. This
almost happened, but in 1993, Toakyirafa was replaced
by David Ahenkorah as the leader of the community. Ahenkorah
experienced a life-altering vision very similar to that
of Toakyirafa. The community then relocated to the small
town of Sefwi Wiawso, known as the Jewish neighborhood
of New Adiembra.
There is currently a synagogue and family living facilities in New Adiembra. Most members
of the community are the first generation of Ghanaians
to be Jewish. There is a core group of approximately
800 people practicing Judaism.
The community originated from Jews in North Africa crossing
the Sahara Desert centuries ago, ending up in the Ivory
Coast. Over time, people lost connections to their Jewish
roots, but apparently maintained some Jewish customs,
such as burying the dead immediately after dead, and
avoiding some meat considered to be unclean.
David Ahenkorah remains the spiritual
leader of the House of Israel Community. According to
Ahenkorah, "They call me a rabbi, but I just call
myself a teacher. I haven't been trained."
During nightly group meetings, David
and "Rabbi" Alex read from donated books about Judaism, teaching
community members of all ages about Jewish traditions.
On Shabbat Alex reads from a English language Tanach,
a gift from a synagogue in Iowa (according to the sticker
inside the book), as David interprets the week's parsha
line by line. Each sentence of the Torah is read aloud
three times, once in the local language Twi, then in
English, and finally translated into a colloquial mixture
of of Twi-English.
The synagogue in Sefwi is described in Forward as a "rectangular concrete building, recently painted a brilliant
blue and white to match the Israeli flags that hang above the doorways.
A center aisle divides the two sections of handcarved wooden pews: the
five pews to the left for men, the five to the right for women."
For many decades, the Jews of Sewfi believed they were
the last remaining Jews in the world. It was not until the late 1980s,
that one of the Ghanaian men travelled to the capital of Accra, and
ask the government officials whether there were other Jews. The Ghanaian
Jews were surprised to discover there were millions of other Jews in
the world. The community had to travel to the Ivory Coast, to contact
the Israeli government. The Israeli
embassy provided the community with one Torah
Scroll and a single siddur,
During the late 1990s a man by the name of Michael
Gershowitz from the Tifereth Israel Synagogue in Des Moines, Iowa arrived at the Ghanaian community to learn about their history. Through
support of Tifereth Israel, Gershowitz was able to provide the Jews
of Sewfi with an additional 200 prayer books. In honor of the Tifereth
Israel Synagogue of Iowa, the Sewfi community has named their synagogue
"Tifereth Israel" in honor of the generous Des Moines congregation.
On March 26, 2004, Bar Dahan was the
first Ghanaian to become a Bar
The community's goal is to build a
Jewish school for the children of Sefwi. Recently, 40
acres have been acquired from a local tribesman, but
not enough funds have been produced to start construction.
Some of the children have learned Hebrew songs and phrases,
but are forced to go to local Christian schools due
to the lack of a Jewish one.
Ghana is considered the first African country to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, though the date is unverified. In September 2011, reopened its embassy in Ghana after 38 years of closure and it is anticipated that the embassy will help foster and deepen bilateral relations between Israel and Ghana for their mutual benefits.
In November 2012, after a four-story mall collapsed
in Accra that killed three and injured over 50 people, the Israeli
Air Force sent a plan carrying medical personnel, engineers, and
communication experts to help Ghana pick up the pieces of the tragedy.
A Magen David Adom team was
also sent to the region.
Also in November 2012, the Israeli government lent
$217 million to the University of Ghana to build a 600-bed teaching
hospital in Legon. Once completed, the hospital will feature state-of-the-art
trauma and emergency services, a heliport and internal medicine department,
Surgery, Obstetrics and gynaecology, pediatrics, cardiology, heart surgery,
and medicinal imaging. The Sheba Medical Centre in Tel HaShomer, Israel
will provide assistance to ensure that Ghana's new teaching hospital
measures up to global standards in medicine and health. The facility
will provide Ghanaians and people in the sub-region the opportunity
to access excellent medical care in Ghana.
The House of Israel Community
P.O. Box 57
Sefwi Wiawso, Ghana W/R
Embassy of Israel
No. 2, First Circular Road
Unit One, Josni Residence
Cantonments, Accra, Ghana
P. O. Box CN 91, Cantonments, Accra
Jews of Africa
Austin Merrill, “Letter from Ghana: In West Africa, a Synagogue
Where the Pavement Ends,” Forward,
(October 28, 2005)
Suk, Tom. "Gifts
Link Synagogues: Ghanaians' prayer books come from Tifereth Israel."
November 10, 1999.
Yoav Zitun, "Ghana: Mall collapses, Israel sends aid" YNet,
November 8, 2012; "Ghana gets $217m Israeli loan to begin construction
of 600-bed Legon teaching hospital," Ghana
Business News, November 25, 2012.