Day 16: There and back again

Despite my disheartening day yesterday, today was a little more on the up side.

I went back to Yeoville with Luke, his group and Kudzai to get a few more shots of my Nigerian Jews.

Our first stop was at the hill so that Luke could get some cutaways and B-role for his video.

COLOURFUL PRAYER: A group of Christian worshipers praying on the hill top in Yeoville. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

COLOURFUL PRAYER: A group of Christian worshipers praying on the hill top in Yeoville. Photo: Ilanit Chernick


Afterwards we headed off to my Nigerian Rabbi. He and his community never fail to inspire me.

While the girls waited in the car, Luke and I headed in to see the Rabbi and take some pictures. One of the congregants told us that “Rabbi is eating lunch and we don’t disturb him during lunch.”

We waited for him in the Synagogue as one of the congregants came in and did the daily afternoon prayer. I watched him take his shoes off, get on his knees and say a number of different verses. It was beautiful.

The Rabbi came in and greeted us with a warm “Shalom Aleichem!” (Meaning Welcome, peace be upon you.)

I explained what I needed and off we went to do my photo shoot. We started chatting afterwards and he asked me if I’d like to chat with his majesty, Igwe Royal Highness) Eze Eri, the leader and Chief Rabbi/Spiritual Leader of the Igbo Jews. He is the direct descendant of Gad, son of the patriarch Jacob.

“Now?” I said.

“Yes I will call him now. He would love to speak to you! I will phone him in Nigeria now!”

I was mildly shocked and in awe that this was about to take place. The thought of speaking to someone who knows he is directly related to a biblical figure was overwhelming.

Shalom Aleichem Igwe Eze Eri, Ze Rabbi Natan m’Drom Afrika,” said Rabbi Obiekwe. Natan is Rabbi Sylvester’s Hebrew name. (The above translates as “Peace be upon you your highness Eze Eri, this is Rabbi Natan from South Africa” – in Hebrew I might add) They proceeded to speak in Igbo (a Nigerian language spoken in Southern and Eastern Nigeria) and Rabbi Sylvester handed me the phone.

We spoke for about 10 minutes about my project and I told him how wonderful his community is in South Africa and I hope to come visit the community in Nigeria. He told me about a few holidays and celebrations the Igbo Jews would be having in Nigeria soon and explained his lineage and role as leader.

IT'S ART: As we left Yeoville I came across this amazing piece of graffiti on a wall. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

IT’S ART: As we left Yeoville I came across this amazing piece of graffiti on a wall. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

He gave me an incredible blessing at the end of the conversation which included “doing well with my project”, “being successful with everything”, that I should “flourish as a Jewess and follow the ways of G-d [Hashem]” and that I should “have a long, happy and peaceful life.”

I handed the phone back to Rabbi Obiekwe and Rabbi Obiekwe said that Igwe Eri and his community would be happy to sponsor a trip for me, a friend and Rabbi Obiekwe to meet and see the Jewish community of Nigeria. I should just “let him know if I want to come”.

It sounds like a pretty awesome plan!

We thanked the Rabbi, said our goodbyes and headed back to the car – I must admit, I was in a bit of a daze.

We then helped Roxi, Thabi and Palesa film at their barbers on Rocky and headed back to the car. On the way, I once again got hit on by another old “Sugar Daddy”. His comment was something I’m not going to share on this forum…

COOLING DOWN: A chilled end to busy but fun day. Photo: Wits Student

COOLING DOWN: A chilled end to busy but fun day. Photo: Wits Student

We got back to Wits, Luke and I giggling and having fun the entire trip back and the two of us wanted ice-cream.

So we went on an “adventure” to the Matrix to find some good old-fashioned ice-cream. Yum!

The perfect ending to a productive (and albeit amazing) day!

In-depth day 15: A snag in the road

HANDS UP: Today this is how I felt after hearing about the need to redo last weeks video footage. Photo: Iakov Kalinin, Huffington Post

DOWN UNDER: Today this is how I felt after hearing about the need to redo last weeks video footage. Photo: Iakov Kalinin, Huffington Post

I feel like I’m flapping, trying to keep my head above water… trying not to sink like a stone to the bottom of an unforeseeable ocean floor.

In other words my filming and editing process has hit a “minor” bump.

Zaheer, our video mentor took a look at the footage I acquired last week and unfortunately he needs me to redo some of the shots… well most of them actually. He was happy with my plan, my ideas and even my B-role filming – just not so happy with my interviewee footage. Some was a little unfocused, others not aligned properly but as he said, “This is how you learn to make things better – you’ve done well so far but lets take it that extra step.”

So I’m re-filming some of the car scenes and two of the interviews this Friday with the social worker from Kosher Mobile Meals. I was a little disheartened but I know it’ll make me a better journalist and a more professional one in the end.

“Nothing ever goes according to plan, you’re always going to hit a snag somewhere, but you just have to work through it and you will!” – Zaheer.

He showed me exactly where I went wrong and taught me how to correct my mistakes and make “Take Two” shine. I just hope it will…

There’s a part of me that feels disappointed and a little broken inside because I thought I gave it my all… But as William Hickson once said:”If at first you don’t succeed try try again!” And that I shall do even if I feel like I’m flailing…

On the plus side, TJ, our photography mentor was happy with the photos I’ve taken of the Nigerian Jewish community. I just need to get those “establishing” shots of the Rabbi and the outside of the Synagogue which is what I’ll be doing tomorrow with my partner in “crime” Luke Matthews.

Well here’s to a better day tomorrow and a more productive one.

Take two: Lights, camera… action!

In-depth day 14: Edit it

I came into university early this morning to get copy all my content from filming onto the computers. A back up as it were and easy access for my editing.

It took almost 2 hours to get everything on and as I waited I started looking through, picking and editing my stills from my time at the Nigerian Synagogue. I realised I needed to get an “establishing shot” of the outside of the Synagogue and the Rabbi and some congregants walking into the premises. Also realised a picture of the Rabbi standing outside or in the entrance would be a good idea to shoot too. So I need to plan when I’m going to get that done – tomorrow or Tuesday should work well.

Finally, the footage had all copied and I decided to get going with some editing so I would have something to show the video mentor, Zaheer in the morning. I spent most of the day finding a bit of music, editing and cutting video footage and syncing the sound. I managed to get 2 minutes and 26 seconds “slapped” together and felt satisfied with what I’d produced.

Yet as the end of my day approached the nerves started kicking in that both the photo and video mentors were going to be unhappy with my work and I might have to redo everything.

My anxiety towards Yeoville has settled but I still don’t enjoy spending my time there – despite the amazing journey and people I have met. That is what makes it bearable: the people, the old Jews who have been living there for over 60 years and the new Jews – my Nigerian brothers and sisters who have been living there for just a couple of years.

In-depth day 10: cameras and conversations

As we build up to filming day (this coming Tuesday!), I have been working hard on perfecting my storyboard which I hope I will be able to stick to loosely at least.

I spent my day driving around Yeoville with my sister who kindly took time out of her Sunday to help me practice my filming. I practiced my camera angling and tried to focus on the shots that could be used on “D-Day”. My main obstacles are keeping the camera still as we drive and using the light to aid me and lighten the driver not darken her.

After a few practice runs and a bit of frustration from my side I finally managed to get the angling and lighting right! There can be miracles… let’s just pray I can get it right first try on Tuesday!

Once that was done, we headed home and once again got confirmation from the Social Worker at Kosher Mobile Meals that everything was set and ready for Tuesday. I must say I’m quite excited to take part of such a brilliant initiative.

After that I called Rabbi Obiekwe to ask him a few questions that I needed clarification on for my written piece. We had a great chat and it ended off with him giving me a blessing for the rest of the Jewish holiday Sukkot which we are currently celebrating.

The rest of the afternoon was spent correcting my “apostrophe abuse”, adding information and taking out the “yucky phrasing” in my written piece. With that Draft number three is finished.

I also called the Jewish archives to organise an appointment to take photos of the old photographs depicting Yeoville in its Jewish hey-days which I will be incorporating into “D-Days” video. Tomorrow afternoon or Wednesday morning are the dates I have asked for. Hopefully my request will be granted!

Well that’s a wrap… until tomorrow’s adventure, I’m outta here!

Arriva Dirche!


In-depth day 9: Difference

HOLINESS: Rabbi Obiekwe does a reading from a Jewish scripture and shows how they've traced their lineage through this biblical passage. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

HOLINESS: Rabbi Obiekwe does a reading from a Jewish scripture and shows how they’ve traced their lineage through this biblical passage. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

After yesterday’s hectic but incredible day, today was a little calmer.

I met briefly with the Igbo Jews to chat to a few of them about what it means to be Jewish.

The Rabbi of the congregation together with a few of the members spoke to me about their struggle to be recognised as Jews and how people judge their authenticity on their skin colour.

“When I tell people I am Jewish, they don’t always believe me. They say, ‘but your skin colour, you are black, how can you be Jewish?’ Not all Jewish people are from Europe. There are Jews all over the world with different coloured skin.” Said a member of the congregation.

I was shocked to find that people can be so ignorant and close minded. “But what about the Ethiopian Jews, it’s never been refuted that they’re Jewish and they’re black.”

Rabbi Obiekwe agreed with me and explained how human features change according to the place where people live and the climate.

“The skin, the colour and the features all change with every generation that is born.”

All the Igbos I spoke with expressed their pride to be Jewish and told me how blessed they feel to be a part of the Jewish nation.

I watched a few rituals (some which I couldn’t take photos of because of the level of holiness the actions entrail) but I did get some pictures of two rituals that are done before entering the Synagogue area as a means of purification. It was beautiful to witness.

After my trip to the Igbos, I headed back to Wits and spent some time working on my video script and shots.One thing I’ve learned is video journalism is that things never goes according to plan.

But might as well have something solid that I can stick to roughly. It always helps!

Well time to sign-off for the next few days. The Jewish holiday of Sukkot is starting shortly. (It’s my favourite time of the year!)

I’ll be back on Sunday! Until then… Ciao!

In-depth day 8: Find me Jewish

MEETING: Influencial Beth-El member Charity Nnonyeli, Rabbi Obiekwe, and I after our interview. Photo: Rofhiwa Madzena

MEETING: Influencial Beth-El member Charity Nnonyeli, Rabbi Obiekwe, and I after our interview. Photo: Rofhiwa Madzena

Well today was one of the most inspirational days I’ve spent in Yeoville.

Rofhi and I got the opportunity to meet with some of the Nigerian Jewish community members and got to experience a few of their prayer rituals and photograph them while in their religious garb. They had prayer shawls, religious books, tzit-tzit (don’t ask me to translate that) and smart clothes. (Yarmulke’s are worn 24/7 by the religious members of the community).

They prayed beautiful and I must say there were a lot of similarities to the way in which the Orthodox community pray. They ended off by chanting “Adon Olam” in English which means “Master of the University” and is traditionally recited in the Synagogue at the end of a prayer service.

Afterwards, I met with one of the women elders (or Rebbetzin’s) in the community who explained her role as a Jewish woman and a Jewish wife. It was incredible to hear her viewpoints  from a similar but mildly different perspective.

“The Jewish woman’s role is to bring peace to the house, raise the children in the ways of Hashem and look after her husband. This is not to say she cannot or should not immerse herself in the working world. She can do both but family must always come first.” She said.

It gave me a bit of a spiritual rejuvenation and made me think: If they can be so strong in their faith in Judaism and God, how much more so should I be?

The Igbo Jews are fantastic. I’m glad to have them as apart of the “tribe” and “family”.

JUST KIDDING: Taking a swing in a park in Observatory while on a break. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

JUST KIDDING: Taking a swing in a park in Observatory while on a break. Photo: Rofhiwa Madzena

Following my wonderful morning we met up with Bongi and headed off to meet her interviewees. Both were interesting (and a little dodgy) rappers. We went on a trek to find a quiet park to film and ended up walking into the middle of Observatory. We found a lovely park with swings and while Bongi did her thing, Rofhi and I decided to find our inner child, (which we did!) on the swings. It was a nice change for a change.

We trekked back to Yeoville and by 2.30pm we were once again heading back on a Taxi (I’m use to it now!) to Wits. Our driver was mildly crazy and took a few chances. I was nearly ready to kiss the ground after we arrived back safely.

A lovely day was had by all – with quite a few laughs along the way. But I must say – I am exhausted!

Tune in tomorrow where I will be looking to locate old photos of Yeoville’s Jewish community for my video.


TIME OUT: Rofhi and I taking a break and having a little fun in the sun. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

TIME OUT: Rofhi and I taking a break and having a little fun in the sun. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

In-depth day 5: Snails pace

Today was a little bit of a slow day. Not as productive as I’d hoped but reflecting back on this week, it was good – exhausting but good!

I focused mainly today on figuring out my multimedia and scripting. The process is long and hard but hopefully everything will come together. Working out what will work and what won’t work and how to handle the camera in the car is mildly nerve-wracking because despite practicing a bit, I have one shot at getting this right on “D-Day”.

So to get a feel for the camera, I took a drive with my mom and another drive with my sister to practice angling and keeping it steady.

I spent most of last night and today working on my first written draft about the “Igbo” Jews and my shot list and scripting for the video. Also spoke with the Jewish Charity again about meeting those who will be working with me to get the video off the ground.

Plan for this weekend: Biggest fast of the year tonight and tomorrow and then Sunday will be spent in Yeoville to meet one of my interviewee’s and also going to “check out” how things work when it comes to packing food parcels at the Jewish Charity.

Apologies for the lack of excitement today – at least there no AK47’s this time and it was a “Sugar-daddy” free day!

Wish me luck… I feel like I’m going to need it.

Stay tuned for the next episode coming Sunday! 😉



In-depth – day 4: Lost and Insecure

PRAY: A look inside the temporary prayer tent - the area the Igbo Jews pray in until the synagogue's reservations are finished. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

PRAY: A look inside the temporary prayer tent -the place of worship used until the synagogue’s reservations are finished. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

For some reason, over most of today I felt unsettled and a little unsafe. Nothing scary happened and information wise, it was a good day. But for the most part I felt uneasy. If you asked me why I felt this way I wouldn’t be able to give you a straight answer.

Despite my day of fear, I had a wonderful interview with the Rabbi of the Nigerian or as they are known “Igbo” Jewish community. I spoke with both him and his assistant (in Hebrew this is known as the Gabai) about the community living there. How he established the Synagogue and why they both came to South Africa and what they hoped to achieve when they did. They explained the story of the Igbo Jews, the laws they keep and how just in the Orthodox community, there are people at all different levels of religiosity. It was probably the most fascinating part of the interview.

I learned about the difference between Orthodox Judaism and Messianic Judaism which does have a few deviations from traditional Judaism but in some respects they are very similar. I took a look at the praying area, the prayer books used and even got a few pictures of it.

It was interesting to hear about the way this community functions like the way the entire community spend most of the Sabbath together, eating meals, singing religious songs, the men and women praying and also doing bible studies in the afternoon after Sabbath lunch.

The Rabbi said he would put me in touch with one of the religious ladies from his community and I’m planning to interview her on Monday. Exciting!

My interviews took longer than expected and the rest of the group had places and people to visit, so unfortunately I was unable to meet any of the Orthodox Jews still living there this afternoon because of the time constraint.

While at the Rastafarian club, I was “hit-on” by an older man who wanted to be my “Sugar-daddy” and made some gross remarks… if I could have run out screaming, I would have! It was pretty disturbing but the others came just in time so no more interaction could take place. As we left he asked “when am I seeing you again baby?”

I just answered, “I don’t know”, and ran out in front of the group, all of them giggling at my harried reaction.

Once 4pm hit, we decided to get going – you want to be out of there by that time because things start getting a little dangerous and mildly raucous.


TAKE TWO: Taxi ride selfie with the one and only Lutho Mtongana. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

We caught a taxi again – ride number two for me! Once we got back to WAM I was too scared to get out of the taxi because there were oncoming cars next to the door and I was afraid of getting hit by a car (my judgement is bad sometimes). Everyone laughed at my silly-ness and the driver even had a laugh – glad I could be entertaining!

Stay tuned for the next episode of in-depth: Coming soon to a blog near you.

In-depth – day 3: A little help…

It’s amazing to see the reactions one receives when simply asking for help.

Asking for help always reminds me of The Beatles song “A little help from my friends” which teaches a great lesson – it’s okay to ask for help, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. We all need a little help sometimes and today it was my turn.

That said, today the struggle to find the Jews continued… I spent two and a half hours being passed from person to person when asking around about the community. (Thank you Zelmarie, Robyn, Anazi and Tendai for accompanying me through my wild goose chase).

“Maybe ask this vendor…”

“Nah my sista, go speak to him…”

“Sorry I can’t help you, but she might be able too…”

At about 2pm I finally got hold of my friend from yesterday who was able to point me in the right direction. Low and behold he had kindly spoken to a number of Jews in the area who would be willing to speak on camera.

He called one of my interviewees and asked if we could meet him so we could become familiar with each other. He said: “Yes!”

And with that we were off to see him. We walked into the building, knocked and rang the bell for a good 15 minutes to no avail.

“He’s home,” said my friend, “but he’s not answering. I’ll have a word with him when he does his shopping tonight. You’ll meet him and the others, don’t panic!”

We walked back to the market and he showed us his stall. There was an array of spices, rices, beans and nuts from all over the world – an amazing sight to see. He sent us on our way with samples which most of the group devoured in minutes.

After a quick lunch break, it was time to get down to business with meeting the contacts for my written piece – the Nigerian Jews of Yeoville. Off we went to the synagogue to meet with the Rabbi and one of his congregants.

Our mission: To find out a little bit about the Judaism practiced and their history. The synagogue is still in the process of being renovated but what we did see was beautiful.

I had a quick chat with the Rabbi who told me a little about their history which included a small family tree which showed their lineage which has been traced back to Gad, the fifth son of the biblical patriarch Jacob. The sect of Judaism they abide by is Messianic which is the reason why most Orthodox communities do not recognise them despite being “Igbo”, meaning Hebrew, Jews.

We scheduled a second meeting for tomorrow where I will be hearing about the Jewish laws they abide by and ways of celebrating Jewish holidays and Sabbath.

As we headed back to Rocky street, we stopped off for Anazi and Robyn to speak to a few contacts in the market. While waiting, what felt like a scene from a movie played out in front of us:

A white car zoomed past us, windows open with two AK47’s sticking out which were pointed at all us pedestrians standing there. I quickly ducked fearing they were about to open fire. It was a car chase – the two men in the vehicle had robbed a fidelity van and were being pursued by the police who followed after them about 2 minutes later, sirens blaring. I found out afterwards that Tendai and Zelmarie had both been mildly shocked by what we had seen too and had as they explained it “frozen”.

After that we decided we had had enough drama for one day and called it.

Surprisingly, this evening I received a phone call from one of my sources who managed to get me more Jewish contacts in the area – amazingly all of them he listed are religious Jews who haven’t left Yeoville just yet.

What’s yet to come – time will tell.