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Zimbabwe-Jews (Feature)

RUSAPE, Zimbabwe, April 23 Sapa-AFP

In the hilly rural Makoni district, some 200 kilometres (120 miles) southeast of the capital Harare, lies a small synagogue whose entrance is graced by a star of David painted in brown against a white wall.

Inside the church are some 500 Zimbabwean worshippers, colourfully dressed in blue and brown neat uniforms with sashs, the men wearing black yamulkas, or skull caps, the women wearing maroon and purple crowns. All the worshippers bear rosettes in seven colours.

They have been celebrating the eight-day period of Passover -the flight of the Jews from Egypt as recounted in the Bible.

They consider themselves to be authentic Jews. Drawing striking parallels between the historical conditions of biblical Israel and common African cultures, the elders of the Church of God Saints of Christ are convinced that they are lineal descendants of Moses.

"We are typical of a house of Israel, our culture is typical Israel – our marriages, inheritance customs, even our childbirth customs. We have never been gentiles, we are the lost tribe of Israel," Rabbi Ambrose Makuwaza told AFP.

"We are authentic Israelites ... We crossed the Suez canal to come to Africa. We are Hebrews, descendants of Abraham."

While the church has been in existence in Zimbabwe since 1938 and claims a following of more than 5,000, it is little known nationally.

The Orthodox Jewish community here is aware of their existence but say that since it has not been established whether or not the Zimbabwean worshippers are Jews, they cannot claim to be Jews, though they may have a Jewish inclination.

Stanley Harris, president of the Central African Jewish Board of Deputies in Zimbabwe, says it would be difficult to trace Judaic origin of these people.

"They are of possible Judaic knowledge, but not of Judaic origin," said Harris.

But Rabbi Makuwaza is adamant that Zimbabweans, like all black southern Africans of Bantu origin, are of Judaic parentage.

"In times to come the world will come to realise that there are (black) Jews in Zimbabwe," he said, adding: "We are Israelites, we have no doubts. ... If we are not Israelites, as other people want to believe, how come we follow the Israelites way of living?"

There are even languages resemblances between the Zimbabwean native languages and Hebrew, they say.

They point to American scholars who in a book compiled in 1970s said the similarities between African culture and pre-exile Hebrews are too many and too close to be accidental.

*****Scholarly studies, they claim, show evidence that in virtually any African country, remnants of an earlier Hebrew civilisation can be found with traces of their ancestry to the ancient kingdom of biblical Abraham.

Western historians say Bantus, Africans of southern Africa, came from the north, but where exactly, they do pinpoint, argued another elder, "We believe we came from Israel in the Middle East".

They also argue that there is biblical evidence that Abraham, the original Isrealite, was of cushite or black African descent, and that Moses, the founder of Judaism was born in Africa.

Some of the Judaic practises followed by the Zimbabwean black Jews include the strict observance of the Sabbath, observance of the ten commandments, male circumcision and baptism by immersion in flowing water as well as following the lunar month.

The Rusape Jews believe Jesus was the Messiah of the time, and that Jesus was like any other human being who is currently buried in Jerusalem, not that he went to heaven as Christians believe.

"The birth or death of Jesus has no religious value, only his teachings,"
said elder Hosea Risinamhodzi.

M Basner

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