Amar’e Stoudemire is coming home. After travelling back and forth to Israel since 2010, he has experienced what many African-Americans have noted as a sort of realization that somewhere in their past a Jewish ancestor is rooted. Stoudemire confirmed that his Jewish roots reach back through his mother’s side, linking him to the Jewish people. To many observers this sort of awakening is surprising, but it has been going on for quite a while.
In the early days of the Black Hebrew movement, there was a decidedly racial line drawn. In fact, an idea was posited that it was in fact the Africans themselves that were the Jews and not those of European descent. The myth of the Khazars superceded more traditional understandings as well as factually sound that European Jews came to Europe both as traders in the times of the Romans and were brought there as slaves.
This line has begun to fade as a new crop of younger African-Americans find interest in Hebrew customs and beliefs. This Hebrew awakening is beginning to ripple across the African-American world. Influential leaders like Rabbi Capers Funnye are publicly advocating for Black Jews to become fully integrated members of the broader Jewish world, dropping the racial division. In the past traditional Jewry shunned such overtures, but something is occurring now for the first time throughout world Jewry: tacit acceptance.
The affinity that many Black Americans have for Judaism is not without historical merit. Most Africans that were taken as slaves to the Americas came from the West coast of Africa. A majority of these slaves were Igbo. Igbos have a clear connection to the broader nation of Israel to the point that many rabbis in Israel have begun to come out in support of real outreach to Igbos in Nigeria. In fact, Igboland already hosts 47 synagogues and a 10,000 person strong and growing population of observant Africans.
In Isaiah 11:11 it says the following:
Then it will happen on that day that the Lord Will again recover the second time with His hand The remnant of His people, who will remain, From Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, And from the islands of the sea.
Cush is mentioned as one of the locations of the Israelites. Cush in biblical parlance does not only mean South Sudan and Northern Ethiopia, but essentially anything south and soutwest of these locations. The Igbo and many of the tribes like the Guin tribe express parallel customs like circumcision, kosher observance, and in many communities a wedding canopy. Josephus, the Jewish historian at the time of the revolt against Rome writes clearly that the Jews were not only taken to Europe, but fled into Africa as well. Of course in Europe Jews found their way to the Jewish communities of France and Italy and blended in as well taking in Roman converts. But in Africa they were seemingly “lost” to the rest of the Jewish world.
The Jewish exile has often been connected to European and Middle Eastern Jewry, mainly because West Africa and Africa as a whole was so decimated by European and Arab colonialism. Many of these communities that thrived in these sub-Sahara areas lost their cohesive expression.
Now, with this tremendous awakening underway, a piece of of the redemption is unfolding in front of us. Jews from all over the world are meant to return. Amar’e Stoudemire’s return to his roots is not only his personal journey, but in light of clear documentation, his journey is part of the redemptive process of the people of Israel.