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Rudy Rochman and two others traveled to Nigeria to do a film about the Igbo community.

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“This was the first image we took on July 28 after our release from Nigerian DSS captivity where the We Were Never Lost team was illegally caged under inhumane conditions for 3 weeks… Thank you to everyone's thoughts, prayers and actions that lead to our liberation.” (Photo: Rudy Rochman Facebook page)

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Three Israeli filmmakers who were imprisoned in Nigeria for almost three weeks landed in Israel on July 29.

The trio had been arrested in a synagogue in Ogidi on July 9 by ski-mask clad agents of Nigeria’s internal security agency. Authorities suspected them of collaborating with Biafran separatists in the eastern part of the nation.

Israeli filmmakers Rudy Rochman, Andrew (Noam) Leibman and Edouard David Benaym were released after 20 days of detention in Nigeria while filming a documentary titled ‘We Were Never Lost’, which aimed to explore ‘lost tribes’ throughout Africa, namely Jewish communities in African countries such as Kenya, Madagascar, Uganda and Nigeria. They were focusing on the Igbo Jews in Nigeria when this incident occurred. Rochman, a pro-Israel activist, has almost 95,000 followers on Instagram.

One individual entered the West African nation on a French passport, the other two with US passports. This complicated the matter for the Israeli embassy to assist with the case, according to sources. After being released, embassy staff took them to the local Chabad center to spend the night. The group were handed back their passports and phones just before their flight took off.

Their families claimed that local political elements had “twisted” the gifting of a Torah scroll to the Igbo Jews to claim that it constitutes support for separatists.

“The filmmaking crew thought it would be a nice gesture to bring several gifts with cultural symbolism to the communities it planned to visit,” the families said in their statement, adding that one of the gifts was the Torah scroll. “Unfortunately, members of non-state political groups have hijacked for their own purposes images of the filmmakers gifting a Torah to a local community.”

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The documentary series “is designed to educate viewers about the religious and cultural experiences of several lesser-known Jewish communities. Their goal is to interview members of Jewish communities across multiple African countries, along with Jewish communities in China, India, Afghanistan and elsewhere.” The crowdfunded project, produced by Jonny Pottins of Toronto, had raised about 18% of the $613,000 goal.

The filmmakers claim that they were aware of the political sensitivities. In addition, the “We Were Never Lost” Facebook page reiterated: “We do not take any position on political movements as we are not here as politicians nor as a part of any governmental delegations.”

The ‘lost tribes’ comprise ten of the Twelve Tribes of Israel that were said to have been exiled after its conquest by Assyrians around 722 BC.

On July 6 Rudy Rochman posted this photo: “Welcomed at the airport by our Igbo Jewish brothers in Lagos, Nigeria.” He and his partners were incarcerated three days later by authorities. (Photo: Facebook)

When 15th century European travellers came in contact with Jews in far flung places such as Ethiopia and India, renewed interest in isolated Jewish communities and interest in finding ‘lost tribes’ emerged.

Within Africa itself, from Lembas in Zimbabwe to Yibir in Somalia, there are groups that claim descent from these ‘lost tribes’.

Other than European descent Jews in South Africa and Sephardim in North Africa – which don’t count as sub-Saharan African communities – only Beta Israel in Ethiopia have been recognised by the Israeli government and have made Aliyah, notably a mass exodus from the 1970s to early 80s.

Rochman’s documentary crew was planning to film other remote Jewish communities in Africa, such as this “lost tribe” in Uganda, pictured here in prayer. (Photo:Takani Joseph)

The Filmmakers said in the statement that a local Igbo Jewish woman was arrested along with them and she was detained separately.

“Although the team cannot continue their filming of Igbo Jewish life in Nigeria, their mission is not over and the story will be told,” the statement declared. 

Avi Kumar is a historian of Sri Lankan descent who lives in New York.

He has a unique spin on current affairs.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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