Madagascar Groups Seek Closer Jewish Ties
Madagascar is the home of Kulanu’s new correspondent, Raherimasoandro Andriamamonjy. Nicknamed Hery, he is a one-man tour de force for Judaism and Israel in his country.
Hery’s initial visit to Israel was in 1991. In 1992, he founded the “Club Shalom Madagascar,” of which he remains the president. The group’s mission, according to Hery, is to serve as an “interface or a trait d’union between Madagascar and Israel,” especially “to favor the cultural ties with the Malagasy people and the Israeli people.”
The group is made up of former interns who attended education programs in Israel. Many of those programs were through MASHAV-Israel and mostly geared to agricultural studies.
Hery returned to Israel in 1999 despite the fact that Madagascar did not have diplomatic relations with Israel at that time. On his return, Hery was part of the effort that resulted in Daniel Saada being recognized as the Israeli Ambassador to Madagascar in 2006.
Not all members of the “Club Shalom Madagascar” are Jewish. The “Diaspora Jiosy Gasy,” of which Hery is also the president, is the group for Jews and those who may wish to convert. He says that there are about 100 Jews registered with the club.
Hery reports that there have been no native-born Jews in Madagascar to this point. Some of those on the list are expatriates, some are returning to their roots, and some simply became interested in Judaism. Many follow the “ways and customs” of Judaism, including circumcision and not eating pork, according to Hery.
Madagascar Jews are spread throughout the country, although Hery could organize about 50 to meet in the capital city of Antananarivo for religious study. A core group currently meets as possible in a “large room of a house of one of our members for worship on the Sabbath.” Unfortunately, there is no rabbi or teacher, and they have limited knowledge of Hebrew, few books and very limited religious regalia. They know when Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, Purim, and Passover occur. Attendees read the Bible on an informal basis at meetings.
As if all of the preceding activities weren’t enough, Hery also does research on Jewish history in Madagascar, even participating in academic seminars at local institutions. He reports that there are similarities between the local language and Hebrew. There is also an historical record of a Jewish “tribe” that fled Mecca, arriving in Madagascar in 1497 (although some authorities put it as early as 1491). The head of the group was Ali Ben Forah, also known as Ali Tawarath. The descendants of the group are known as the Anakara tribe, which still exists.
Hery and the members of the “Diaspora Jiosy Gasy” are passionate about becoming fully educated and recognized Jews. They wish, as Hery puts it, to “live in unison with all the children of Israel scattered across the world.” They want to develop an appreciation of Jewish culture and to receive Jewish education.
Any assistance is welcome. Hery has been in contact with other Jewish organizations, including the South African Country Communities division of the African Jewish Congress. Unfortunately, he is not able to attend their meetings. The “Diaspora Jiosy Gasy” needs all manner of religious books and training. Hery speaks some English, but materials in French would be especially helpful. A computer would also be very welcome. Contact him for advice on how to send items:
M. RAHERIMASOANDRO ANDRIAMAMONJY
President du Club Shalom Madagascar,
Secretaire General de la Diaspora Jiosy Gasy
Adresse: LOT A 27 ALASORA, ANTANANARIVO.103.MADAGASCAR
Tel. 261 20 32 07 526 04 herijiosy @ hotmail.com