A group of about 40 people in the West African country of Gambia has discovered an interest in Judaism, adopting some of its customs and even building a synagogue, an Israeli diplomat told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
Ambassador to Senegal Gideon Behar said that last week he had visited the unusual community located in the capital of Banjul that has taken upon itself to become better acquainted with the Mosaic faith.
“They are very interested in expanding their understanding of Judaism, but because of their isolation it is difficult,” he said.
The congregation, which is led by a man named Fernando and his wife, two immigrants from Cameroon, wear skullcaps, sow their own self-styled prayer shawls and even built a synagogue complete with a bejeweled Torah scroll.
“They are thirsty to learn more, but while they’ve learned some Jewish customs they are oblivious to others,” the Behar said. “For instance, they remove their shoes when they enter their synagogue.”
Gambia, a thin sliver of land hugging the banks of an eponymous river, is an impoverished nation with a population of about 1.7 million that is almost completely surrounded by its much larger neighbor Senegal.
Unlike Jewish communities in other parts of Africa such as Ethiopia, the community that the Israeli envoy visited makes no claim to any Jewish heritage. Instead, Behar said their interest in the religion is part of a trend he has come across in other parts of the continent where evangelical Christians have become fascinated with Judaism through the study of the Bible.
“On my last visit in Sierra Leone I was asked to donate Torah scrolls and explain about Jewish prayers,” he said. “You often see cases where the closer evangelical Christians get to the biblical sources they cross a line and become interested in Judaism.”
Behar said that in his opinion the Israeli government is largely unaware of the widespread support that evangelical Christians in that part of the world show for the Jewish state and its significance.
“They pray for Israel fervently and feel very close to it,” he said. “They admire Israel.”