In the Central African country of Cameroon, a Pentescostal church studying the New Testament had a problem. The Old Testament said that God couldn’t be a person. So how could Jesus, in the New Testament, be God, or a son of God? This theological question led the whole congregation to ask some pretty fundamental questions about their faith and God, and ultimately to decide to become Jews.
A new documentary by Laurence Gavron, Black Jews: The Roots of the Olive Tree, explores this community’s journey to Judaism, along with its leader, Serge Etélé, who travels to Israel to learn and study. Quiet and powerful, the film, which is on the international film festival circuit, follows Serge and the men and women from his synagogue as they practice their own uniquely African Judaism.
Conversion is a non-issue: they believe they have Jewish souls already, and without an existing Jewish community in Cameroon, they aren’t worried about meeting anyone else’s standards.
Together they sing, study Hebrew, read Torah, pray, and celebrate holidays, even making their own matzah for Passover. They are creating a new form of Jewish life in the heart of Africa.