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Jewish Tribes: Lost and Found

April 7, 2010 | by Mark Miller

Jewlarious Exclusive: The world’s lost Jewish tribes – revealed!

Jewlarious Satire: The Lemba people of Zimbabwe and South Africa may look like typical African tribe people, but closer examination reveals an important distinction – they’re Jewish, or at least they claim to be. That’s right; you heard me. As reported recently by BBC News here, the Lemba do not eat pork, they practice male circumcision, ritually slaughter their animals, some of their men wear skull caps and they put the Star of David on their gravestones. Yes, they’re one step away from complaining about the jacket they just bought being offered for less at a competing store. Their oral traditions claim that their ancestors were Jews who fled the Holy Land about 2,500 years ago. British scientists have carried out DNA tests which have confirmed that the Lemba are in fact of Semetic descent.

This got me thinking – are the Lemba people the only lost Jewish tribe? If not, who are the others, where are they located, what are their lives like, and how could I find all this out? As you might have already surmised, I ask a lot of questions. Especially when I forget to take my medication. But I needed answers and to supply them, I fortunately discovered The Institute of the World’s Lost Jewish Tribes. The IWLJT is located in a mini-mall in Hoboken, New Jersey, coincidentally in between The Institute of the World’s Lost Episcopalian Tribes and The Institute of the World’s Lost Unitarian Tribes. As the Winchell’s Donuts there just went out of business, the mini-mall is in the process of renting the open space to the World’s Lost Amish Tribes.

Here’s a sampling of the countless lost Jewish tribes throughout the world.

I was stunned to find out that there are, in fact, countless lost Jewish tribes throughout the world. My first thought, as you might imagine, was how can I make money from this knowledge? But until I can figure out how to structure a reality TV show around them, here is a brief sampling:

The Zocali, Certified Chartered Accountants of Namibia

Although not as well known as some of its African neighbors, Namibia is a gem for those in search of the wilderness. And I don’t need to tell you that Jews really love gems. Namibia is a large and sparsely populated country on Africa's south-west coast, which has enjoyed more than a decade of stability since achieving independence in 1990. As you know, Jews are attracted to independence like Congressmen are attracted to bribes. But I digress. The Zocali, Namibia’s Jewish Certified Chartered Accountants tribe, believe that God has placed them on Earth as His representative accountants. “Zocali” is a Swahili word for “audit.” Their clothing features both the Star of David and selections from the Namibian Tax Codes. The Zocali also have the honor of tabulating the votes each year for the Namibian Academy Awards -- the Omarrs.

The Svizzera, Kvetching Yodelers of Geneva

We are all, of course, familiar with yodeling and yodelers, but the tiny Jewish/Swiss Svizzera tribe has, for hundreds of years, combined the ancient practice of yodeling with the even more ancient practice of complaining. Anyone familiar with their Swiss-Yiddish dialect can easily make out the following frequent and common yodels, passed from Alpine mountain top to mountain top: “Oy, my hiking boots are way too tight”… “That elk we had for lunch is giving me heartburn”… “Have you ever thought that we’re over-paying for Swiss cheese because of the holes?”… “If God is all-good, why did He send my mother-in-law to live with us?” Experts believe the whining is less irritating when presented in a yodeling format. The Svizzeras are in the process of trying to convince the Grammy Awards Committee to add a yodeling category.

They have their own sled race -- the “Yiditarod,”

The Jujupik, Hebraic Eskimos of Kotzebue

The first thing you notice is the ice mezuzahs on their igloos. But there are other giveaways that distinguish this small band of Alaskan Jews. These hearty herring fishermen and women distinguished themselves early on by carving a synagogue out of a glacier. Their sealskin yarmulkes and tallits serve to keep them warm. They’ve even customized the famed Iditarod Sled Race, terming theirs the “Yiditarod,” and placing yarmulkes on each of the racing dogs. They prefer their children to marry other Jujupiks; hence the popularity of their online dating service, Jujupik-Date. To encourage tourism, the tribe recently began promoting its Have Your Bar Mitzvah in Alaska program, offering a discount for those staying at the Jujupik Hilton.

The Szechuanawitzes, Lost Jews of China

I was stunned to discover a group of Jews still in existence in present-day China. There are only about 1200 of them remaining, but they are a proud, close-knit group and quite open about their identity. I was fortunate enough to connect on the phone with one of them, Hop-Ling Liebowitz. About an hour after I’d hung up, I felt the urge to call him again. Liebowitz revealed that on the Chinese New Year, the Szechuanawitzes visit the local Jewish deli, then go out for a movie, often one by Chang Lo Weinberg, the Chinese Woody Allen. The tribe dates back to 1716, when its founder, Zheng Wang Rosenstein, had a dream in which Buddha instructed him to lead his friends and neighbors to Judaism. Though they were suspicious of his dream, due to the fact that he suffers from insomnia, he was determined, and managed to convince thousands of Chinese not only to become Jewish, but also to abandon their farming careers for the wholesale clothing business.

The Coconutensteins, Lost Jews of Tahiti

Jews, of course, settled and cherish the Land of Milk and Honey – Israel. But one group of them, the Coconutensteins, found another paradise here in Tahiti, the Land of Coconuts, Mahi-Mahi, and Grass Skirts. One benefit is they save a lot of money on vacations, since they already reside in one of the world’s most beautiful places. Granted, they have to constantly deal with friends and relatives who want to take their vacation there, but such is the price of heaven on Earth. The tribe was formed about 175 years ago when a Jewish vacation cruise ship ran aground and its survivors saw no reason for returning to civilization. The tribes people do not appear to be Jewish, as they are relaxed, joyous and carefree. This is perhaps most vividly shown in the original dance movement they have created – the Jula, which is a sort of Jewish Hula, combining elements of the Hula, the Hora, and mime versions of favorite deli meats.


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