Al Jazeera continues to embarrass the American press with its story on the Lemba tribe of Zimbabwe building its first synagogue.
The 2,200-word story has both breadth and depth. It has both broad brushstrokes and precise details. It tells of organizations and individuals. It's not casual reading, but it's absorbing and eye-opening.
The Lemba, numbering between 50,000 and 200,000, have long been known for Jewish traditions like kashrut and circumcision. In recent years, they have caught new attention as geneticists have found that their men have a gene typical of the ancient Jewish priesthood. And at least one researcher claims to have found a replica of the Ark of the Covenant -- which the Lemba say their ancestors brought out of the Holy Land.
In what's called a shirt-tail lede, the article starts with a scene setter, surrounding the home of Lemba leader Modreck Maeresera:
In a quiet neighborhood in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, barefoot boys wearing yarmulkes run around a small compound. Inside the walled enclosure is a single-story building that serves as both Maeresera’s home and a makeshift worship center. On Saturday mornings the front door remains open as members of the congregation stream in and out during the course of a two-plus hour service.
Maeresera, the closest thing the community has to a rabbi, leads the congregation. He stands tall and composed, reading, speaking and singing in a mixture of English, Hebrew and the local Shona language. Among the boys in attendance are Maeresera’s sons; Aviv, 5, named for the Hebrew word for spring, and Shlomo, 2, or Solomon in Hebrew.
Al Jazeera goes into amazing detail on Jewish practices of the Lemba. It says Maeresera became a shochet, a "traditional Jewish slaughterer," at the Catholic boarding school he attended as a boy. The Lemba circumcise their boys and avoid marrying outside the tribe. Shabbat service includes sharing of challah and ritual grape juice. And the congregation is learning to pray in Hebrew as well as their native Shona tongue.