African Jews hope to build synagogue

DNA links Lemba Jews to ancestors in Israel from 2,000 years ago

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - A group of African Jews linked to their ancestors in Israel hope to build a synagogue in Zimbabwe.

"We are not converts," said Modreck Maeresera, a member of the Lemba group. "We are descendents from Jews who migrated from Israel 2,000 years ago."

The Lemba Jews maintained many of their Judaic practices dating back thousands of years.

Florida International University professor Tudor Parfitt recently discovered them.

"They don't eat pork. They practice male circumcision and they wear yarmulkes," Parfitt told Local 10's Constance Jones. "The Jewish world is coming around to the idea that they have black cousins, not only in Zimbabwe, but in other places in the world."

Parfitt, author of "Black Jews in Africa and the Americas," spent time in Zimbabwe where he realized the group could really be connected to Israel.

"This was open on the first occasion in the history of the world where genetics is able to answer historical issues about origins," he said.

DNA testing proved that Lemba Jews have a direct genetic connection to the Jewish priestly line.

Despite the discovery, Israel has not accepted the group of Africans as real Jews.

"We are not worried much about that because we know that we are Jews," said Maeresera. "We don't need acceptance to make us more Jews than we are."

Maeresera is working to educate Americans about the Lemba Jews. He recently visited the Jewish Museum of Florida in Miami Beach.

"Most people are surprised to hear there are Jews in Zimbabwe," he said.

It's been thousands of years since the Lemba Jews have been connected with any other Jews, so they're learning some of the newer traditions of the day.

"Unfortunately, we do not have a synagogue to put the Torah in," said Maeresera. "So when it's done, we will have a functionally Jewish community."

The group wants to raise funds to build a synagogue.

"It's changing -- the geography of the Jewish world and the color of the Jewish world," added Maeresera.

Maeresera also visited New York, Boston, Houston, and Chicago as he worked to raise funds for the synagogue.

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