Educating the next generation

Reconnecting the ‘lost’ tribes

Seeking to bring the ‘lost’ tribes into Jewish consciousness, Rudy Rochman discusses his documentary with Sharyn Kolieb.

Rudy Rochman with the Abayudaya Jewish community in Uganda.    Photo: Instagram @wewereneverlost
Rudy Rochman with the Abayudaya Jewish community in Uganda. Photo: Instagram @wewereneverlost

Rudy Rochman is a prominent advocate for Israel and the Jewish people, with over 500,000 followers across social media. He was recently in Australia as guest of Magen David Adom Australia speaking at events in Sydney and Melbourne. He is well known for his viral videos of engaging in discussion with pro-Palestinian protesters where he counters claims of Israel apartheid and colonisation with ease. He is also working on a documentary titled We were never lost – focusing on Jewish communities that believe they are the ‘lost tribes’ of Israel in Africa and Asia.

For Rochman, telling this story is not only about educating the next generation about these lesser-known Jewish communities, it is a way to tell the story of the Jewish people – not just as a people who follow the religion of Judaism, but as an ancient indigenous civilisation spiritually connected to the land of Israel. In the framing of the Jewish story in this way, modern Israel is a realisation of a struggle for decolonisation.

Rochman not only talks the talk, he walks the walk. He often wears a sudra, which looks similar to the keffiyeh, but is actually a native Judean headdress that has been a part of Israelite culture for thousands of years. The skullcap (kippah) is believed to be a smaller version of the sudra that helped Jews blend in society.

Photo: Facebook @wewereneverlost

Rochman grew up wearing a sudra as his mother’s side is Sephardi and his father’s side is Ashkenazi, but their family focused on Sephardi traditions. He was born in France, and moved to Israel when he was three, and two years later the family moved to the US. He chose to study at Columbia University because of its antisemitism – establishing a pro-Israel student organisation, and on finishing his studies served in the Israel Defence Forces.

He notes that Jews are called “Jews” today following the Roman exile from Judea, but that before the Roman exile, Israelite tribes were expelled by the Assyrian Empire, and those tribes were spread throughout the world. Rochman believes these Jewish communities in Africa, Asia and South America should be given the opportunity to return to Israel, as happened with Ethiopian Jews.

He also seeks to bring attention to the Jews who remain in Ethiopia: “Only half of the Ethiopian Jews came back. The other half are still in Ethiopia in refugee camps and waiting to come back, being still persecuted in their society.”

Rochman together with fellow filmmakers Andrew Leibman and Edouard David Benaym travelled to Nigeria in 2021 to film the Igbo Jewish community, but a day-and-a-half into filming, they were arrested by the Nigerian government.

“We did not do anything illegal. They came to our hotel with 15 mercenaries, wearing black ski masks at gun point, pulled us out of our hotel held us in a government facility [and a day later] put us into a cage for three weeks. We’re basically starved for a week only given water under harsh disgusting conditions.” Rochman says he was also put in a cell with a member of Boko Haram.

Rudy Rochman wearing a sudra.
Photo: Instagram @mysudra

Igbo nationalists had campaigned to form an independent state of Biafra. The Jewish community became associated with this independence struggle – synagogues were raided and Jews were killed. There are around 20 million Igbo people and many have maintained customs similar to Jewish rituals. Many wonder whether the word Igbo, pronounced “EE-bo”, originated from the word “Hebrew”.

Now that a new government has taken over that is friendlier to the Igbo community, Rochman plans to return to Nigeria to film later this year.

Rochman had planned to return to Nigeria last November, but then October 7 happened. As a former paratrooper in the Israel army on active reserve duty he was called up on October 7 and deployed to fight terrorists in Kfar Aza – a scene of some of the worst Hamas atrocities. His unit was also the first to enter Khan Yunis in Gaza. On witnessing the massacre at Kfar Aza, he said “No one can prepare you for seeing men, women and children slaughtered … These are images that I won’t be able to get out of my mind,” but added to cope, he tries to contextualise it, telling himself, “You’re there for a bigger reason, to save as much life as possible.” He now hopes to return to working on this documentary. For Rochman the film is not only about education, it is also part of a vision in which these scattered tribes return to Israel, which he believes could be the key to resolving the conflict with the Palestinians.

Ethiopian Israelis in Jerusalem carrying photos of their family still trapped in Ethiopia. Photos: Instagram @wewereneverlost

“If we were to bring them back, we would see millions returning home. And then the demographic issue of Palestinians having right of return wouldn’t be a threat. So, I don’t think there’s a future without Israelis or Palestinians in this land. And I think the only way for us to come up with a solution is one that fulfils the aspirations of both collectives, which are different, and ends the injustice that both experience which are also different and not in competition.”

The documentary is also his way of reuniting the Jewish family. “We’re an incomplete family. And I think that every part and member of the Jewish people in the nation of Israel should have a right to come back home and to know each other and to see each other as family.”

For more information on We Were Never Lost, visit

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