Boomer comedies and teen party flicks aren’t the only movies buoyed by their soundtracks. Jeff L. Lieberman’s new doc, Re-Emerging: The Jews of Nigeria, is punctuated with the holy music of the small clusters of Igbo people who have converted to Judaism—mash-ups of Hebrew scripture and African rhythms that thrill the ear with the discovery of the new. (Seeing kosher meals prepared from local staples like cassava and yam is a similarly expansive experience.) Centered on the spiritual journey of Shmuel (formerly Sam), a young Igbo man who wants to become a rabbi, the film regularly widens its focus to offer context: of the history of the Igbo in Nigeria and those later brought in captivity to America; of the similarities between Igbo custom and Judaic law; of the legends of the 12 tribes of Israel. The film’s circumstantial evidence for the Israelite heritage of the Igbo is sometimes a reach: There are contortions to show similarities between cherry-picked words in Hebrew and the Igbo dialect, for instance, and one expert on a piece of slave history is introduced as a guide for South Carolina ghost tours. Admirably, the film gives skeptics their say, however briefly. Yet in the face of the authenticity of Shmuel’s faith, the evidence for or against the Judaic heritage of the Igbo is beside the point.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 16, 2013