DoingJewish

What was supposed to be a short trip to Ghana turned into a journey of self-discovery with a small Jewish community.

A documentary by Canadian Gabrielle Zilkha is one of the latest Jewish sensation films to hit the screens this year.

It was while in Ghana, volunteering at a women’s rights organization that Zilkha stumbled on what might be one of the lost tribes of Israel. She finds herself alone and in a vastly Christian community as the Jewish New year approaches but then her mother surprisingly calls her and informs her of the presence of a Jewish community in the country. She is reluctant and skeptical but nonetheless, she decides to go celebrate Rosh Hashanah with the Jewish community in Ghana. Her yearning and natural need for adventure compel her to check it out. Zilkha sets off on a journey across the country to find the tiny community. Little does she know that this community located in remote Sefwi Wiawso is a very vibrant community.

After a day’s bus ride to the remote village, she asked a cab driver about a man named Joseph, the contact name she was given. The name didn’t ring a bell until she described him as a Jew. Zilkha had to endure another short drive to a house. She was warmly welcomed and to her amazement and delight, she was staring at a large star of David on the wall. To her further astonishment, she sees a Torah, men with skull caps and talits and an entire congregation of black African men, women, and children chatting prayers in Hebrew. This marked the beginning of her journey into unveiling and exploring Judaism in Ghana. The feeling of being at home after she saw David’s star on the wall inspired her into making the documentary film, Doing Jewish: A Story from Ghana. What was initially a six-month commitment turned into a two-year-long stay.

Doing Jewish explores the background and the lives of the Jews of Sefwi Wiawso. It not only explores their background but also shows the importance of connections as illustrated in the Jews’ efforts to reach out to other Jews worldwide. Elaborated in the documentary is the ongoing struggle for acceptance and growth in a community that does not value Jewish customs. Their leader Alex Armah tells of his dream to see his congregation achieve official status and understand their history.

Their history though remains a mystery, could they be descendants of the lost tribes of Israel? As Armah struggles to unite and encourage his congregation despite the trying times, Zilkha is on a quest to throw light on the true meaning of Judaism. She consults experts in Miami, New York, Montreal and Toronto and along the way she stumbles on information about the history of the Jewish community.

Using tools of 21st-century storytelling, the crew employs a storytelling strategy that uses a variety of digital, social media and communications technology. This enables a deeper and ongoing communication between the Sefwi community and those people around the world who can relate to their journey of self-discovery and their culture.

Resources

Follow the Conversation on Twitter