By Alisa Haber
“You know those people looking for meaning in their lives, so they get up and go volunteer in Africa? I’m one of those people.”
So begins “Doing Jewish: A Story From Ghana,” a documentary by Canadian Gabrielle Zilkha. It was while she was in Ghana to volunteer at a women’s rights organization that Zilkha stumbled on what might be one of the lost tribes of Israel.
Her original six-month commitment stretched for over two years as she followed a small group of African Jews in Sefwi Wiawso. Although her research shows roots going back centuries, the current community formed only in 1977. Despite the unbelievably familiar and accurate prayers and practices, the question is raised: Are they really Jewish?
Without the unbroken lineage to back them up, talk of conversion abounds. While an American who is comfortable in his inherited religion can say, “I can be Jewish and reject everything and still identify as Jewish,” the Sefwi people must prove themselves to be recognized.
It is a hard battle in this rural area amid poverty and Christian missionaries. There is a goal to empower them through health and education, but resources are needed, and young people leave to find better options elsewhere.
This film asks an age-old question: What is a Jew? Answering takes you on a journey of self-discovery through religious and cultural identity.
As Zilkha says, “You can go across the world to connect with different people but end up realizing they are most like yourself.”