(Times of Israel) There is a widespread belief among Igbos — the third-largest ethnic group in Nigeria — that they are descendants of the tribes of Israel. Many of them are passionately Zionist. Their precise number among the 175 million people in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is not certain, but ranges somewhere between 30 and 35 million.
Their claim to a Jewish lineage and their support for Israel are interesting in and of themselves, but even more fascinating is that during the last 30 years or so there has also been a movement among some Igbos to match their tradition of Jewish descent with the practice of rabbinic Judaism, the learning of Hebrew, and the fostering of connections with Jews abroad.
The wider Jewish world has begun taking notice.
Abuja, Nigeria (CNN) -- A Shabbat service is underway at the Ghihon Hebrew Research synagogue in the Jikwoyi suburb of Nigeria's federal capital territory.
Fourteen year-old Kadmiel Izungu Abor heads there with his family. They walk alongside stray goats on a road covered in red dust and potholes, lined with open sewage. They are nearly 20 kilometers away from the modern multi-story office buildings and sprawling mansions in Nigeria's capital city of Abuja.
About 50 people gather in the synagogue. They pray from the Siddur, they read from the Torah and as they chant, Abor's mellow alto begins to rise.
In a country of 162 million people tensions often lead to violent uprisings between Christians and Muslims and being part of the religious minority can be an issue. But Abor wears his kippah and his identity with pride.
The Igbo are one of Nigeria's largest ethnic groups with population estimates ranging from 20 to 50 million. Abor is convinced that the Igbo's ancestors were Jews.
"I am a Jewish Igbo," he says.
A new documentary by New Yorker Jeff Lieberman called Re-Emerging: The Jews of Nigeria is taking an in depth look into one of the most unique 'Jewish' communities in the world: The Igbos of Nigeria.
Lieberman's film is a rare testimonial to the daily life of a group that for years has been living off the official Jewish radar and in a political atmosphere of massacres between Christians and Muslims with the constant threat of destruction over their heads.
Vibrant and joyous it celebrates what it sees as its Jewish roots. Make no mistake, this is Africa, but Africa Jewish style.
So how did Jews get to Africa? And why has no one heard of this community until now? That question has a simple enough answer: The group is part of one of the largest ethnic tribes in Nigeria; the Igbo. A tribe with millions of people and the Jewish community making up only a small fraction of that number.
Lieberman explains that the unique situation of the community in Nigeria is a direct result of local history. The Igbo were influenced by traditions brought in by the missionaries who came to the region in the time of British colonialism.