Because of thy temple at Jerusalem shall kings bring presents unto thee. Psalm 68:29
The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Psalm 72:10
In a move some believe has prophetic significance, hundreds of African kings, many of them with Jewish roots, are heading to Israel this October to observe the Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot.
The effort is led by King Ayi of Togo, with an eye toward rediscovering the Jewish roots of many tribal people who believe they are part of the diaspora. They will observe the feast at the Western Wall, believed to be the only remaining retaining wall of the Second Temple Mount. The kings plan to sing out their love for Israel and strengthen their faith that the Messiah is coming soon.
King Ayi was crowned in 1994 as King of the Ayigbe people of the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, and Benin. The seat of this Kingdom was in Togo, although most historians confirm it started in Accra, Ghana. He presently lives in exile in the U.S. In 2002, at the second World Conference of the Council of Chiefs and Kings of Africa, King Ayi was crowned by his peers as head of the Organization of Kings and Queens of Africa, in the republic of Benin.
At the following conference in 2005, he announced his desire to bring all 350 African kings to Israel, to recite the “Shema,”, the Jewish declaration of faith, at the Kotel, or Western Wall in Jerusalem. His announcement was received with overwhelming enthusiasm, reports Breaking Israel News.
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“At least half of the kings who are coming have a tradition that they are Jewish,” King Ayi said. “Some of the kings, though, are Muslim imams. Even they wanted to come. They are coming with the intention of recognizing that God created the entire world.”
The ceremony has been organized in conjunction with the Israeli Religious Affairs Ministry.
In the past, King Ayi has met with Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, two major figures in Orthodox Judaism. His efforts are also supported by the Beit Din (Rabbinic Court) of Bnei Brak as well as the nascent Sanhedrin.
The gathering is auspiciously timed, since the holiday of Sukkot has a strong multi-national element. The Talmud (Sukkah 55b) teaches, “Rabbi Eliezer said: “Why are 70 offerings brought on Sukkot? For the [merit of the] 70 nations of the world.” The teaching is based on a Bible prophecy, Zechariah 14:16: “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.”
In addition to the religious mission, the visit will also be an opportunity to further the diplomatic connection between Israel and Africa. Educational seminars and tours will be interspersed with meetings with government officials.
For King Ayi, this is the culmination of a long personal journey. He told Breaking Israel News it was always known in his family that they were descended from Jews.
“We always refrained from foods deemed forbidden in the Torah,” the King explained. “Circumcisions are performed on the eighth day, and we keep the laws of niddah (family purity). We celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, and blow shofar (ram’s horn).”
Though this may seem surprising to many, recent research has suggested that many African tribes have roots in the Holy Land. The Lemba in Zimbabwe and South Africa and the Igbo in Nigeria are believed to have Jewish roots, though their status as Jews has not been recognized by rabbinic authorities.
The king has been criticized for his connection with Israel, but he stands strong in his conviction.
“I am doing this for me, since I am Jewish, but I am also doing this for my nation,” he said. “My people should stand for what is right. Standing with Israel is the right thing to do. It is written in the Prophets. Our hearts are completely with Israel, and on Sukkoth, we will show that to be true.”
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King Ayi explained that according to his people’s oral tradition, their ancestors migrated to Africa via Egypt and Morocco.
“The Jews and the blacks are almost the same. We are really one family,” he said.
Though Israel’s foreign policy is dominated by its relationships with Western superpowers, its spiritual ties to Africa are essential to Zionism.
Theodore Herzl wrote in his book Altneuland, “Once I have witnessed the redemption of the Jews, my people, I wish also to assist in the redemption of the Africans.”
This sentiment was taken up by the early leaders of the state of Israel, most notably Golda Meir, who developed relations with African nations. This effort was revived by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who recently concluded a tour of Africa.
David Mark, founder of Israel Africa Hub and Israel Rising, is working towards developing a stronger bond between Israel and Africa, and believes that King Ayi should be supported in his mission.
“Only now we are awakening to the fact that many West African communities have authentic Jewish roots that were decimated by European colonists, missionaries, and Arab Islamists,” Mark told Breaking Israel News. “There is a lot a lot of work that still must be done to ensure that these communities get the education and recognition they need.”