Scattered Among the Nations

Jewish Geography

November 26, 2015

4 min read


A selection of photos from isolated Jewish communities from around the globe.

In between 1999 and 2005, Jay Sand, Sandy Carter, and I safely traveled to visit the world’s most isolated Jewish communities – geographically, politically, culturally, linguistically.

In our book Scattered Among the Nations, we share images and stories of living Jewish communities in the present – seeking an urgency fit to evoke their timeless vitality.

The Torah and ancient prophets foretold that we would be scattered among the nations, but that, after forgetting ourselves, we would remember ourselves, and our family would be reunited. The Jewish family has clung and still clings to these roots, in every part of the world. We remember our vow of loyalty to one God. We cherish the gift of Shabbat, our day of rest. We make a sign of the covenant on baby boys, the brit milah. We remember stories of our common ancestors, fleeing oppression, escaping to freedom. We feel the attachment to other Jews, and to Israel.

Add to these common threads a rich tapestry of different ones – sure we have bagels and lox and matzo ball soup in America, which came from Eastern European ancestors, but in Sefwi Wiawso, Ghana, West Africa, they have fufu. In Krasnaya Sloboda, Azerbaijan, in the Caucusus Mountains of the former Soviet Union, they have khoyogusht. In the Brazilian Amazon they have amoronha and pupunha. Some Jewish communities sing our prayers in Hebrew, but others sing them in Luganda or Ladino. Some wear black hats and black coats, but others wear saris and henna tattoos. Some are lawyers and doctors in the cities, and others are gauchos in the pampas and ostrich farmers in the veld. No racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic stereotype defines all Jewish people.

Scattered Among the NationsEnjoy this selection of photos that appear in Scattered Among the Nations

Click here to purchase the book and click here to visit our non-profit website.

Shalomobile Auto-Rickshaw TaxiShalomobile Auto-Rickshaw Taxi
© Bryan Schwartz 2000

In Imphal, Manipur, India, Lemuel Henkhogin Haokip, the longtime Benei Menashe Council Secretary, chauffers a typical, three-wheeled, Indian "auto-rickshaw" taxi - distinguishable from other local taxis only by its friendly, Jewish greeting: "Shalom."

A Leaders VisionA Leader's Vision
© Bryan Schwartz 2003

David Ahenkorah looks up from praying the Mincha service in the sweltering heat in Tifereth Israel, the lone synagogue of the House of Israel community in New Adiembra, Sefwi Wiawso, Ghana, in West Africa.

Jewish Gospel ChoirJewish Gospel Choir
© Jay Sand 1999

Every Shabbat morning over 100 members of the Shona Jewish community outside Rusape, Zimbabwe, gather at their tabernacle for services, wearing their absolute best, and sing original African-Jewish melodies in Hebrew, Shona, and English, resembling American gospel more than any traditional Jewish music.

Humble Enough to Be SparedHumble Enough to Be Spared
© Bryan Schwartz 2001

Inside the 200 year-old synagogue, in Bershad, Vinnytsia, Ukraine, the community still gathers, having survived the Cossacks, the Nazis, and the Communists. "It has the kind of walls that keep in the cold of winter and the heat of summer," sighs the community president, surveying his old shul. "Perhaps we were humble enough to be spared."

Spiritually YoungSpiritually Young
© Bryan Schwartz 2001

Prospero Lujan Quipuscoa, standing with the Chan Chan, pre-Inca ruins outside Trujillo, Peru. He says of the site: "This happened well over 1,000 years ago. It has a great history. But Judaism has three time periods: past, present, and future."

Biking with Sol and TzitzitBiking with Sol and Tzitzit
© Bryan Schwartz 2005

Shmuel Islas Olvera, whose father is the Jewish community president in Venta Prieta, Hidalgo, Mexico, bikes down the street in his hometown on Friday afternoon before Shabbat, encountering a Jewish stranger on his new bike. He stops to turn and ask, "What size is your kippah?"

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