Who are the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda?
The Abayudaya Jewish Community is a 100-year-old community of nearly 2,000 Jews who live among their Christian and Muslim neighbors in scattered villages in the fertile green hills of Eastern Uganda. The Abayudaya, whose tribal name means "People of Judah," trace their Jewish origins to the turn of the twentieth century. The Abayudaya began their journey to Judaism under the leadership of Semei Kakungulu, a powerful leader who was selected to be a Christian missionary for the British. However, Kakungulu favored the Hebrew Bible and in 1919 the community began practicing Judaism. After Kakunguluís death in 1928, some members drifted away. In 1971, Idi Amin Dada came to power, and banned Jewish practice. Many in the community were forced to convert to other religions. After the fall of Amin in 1979, the remnants of the Abayudaya community gathered to rebuild the community. Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, grandson of community elder "Rabbi" Samson, lives near the Moses Synagogue in the village of Nabagogye which he and others from the community's early 1980s "Kibbutz movement" built with their own hands. He was youth leader of the Abayudaya community from 1988 to 1998. Their goal was to gather what was left of the Abayudaya community back together after the devastating reign of Idi Amin Dada ended in 1979.
Even though the Abayudaya regard themselves as Jews, they realized that their isolation from the Jewish world was both dangerous and an obstacle to gaining a deeper understanding of Judaism. Beginning in the spring of 2002, at the community's request, Conservative rabbis joined Rabbi Sizomu in supervising the conversion or "affirmation" of most of Uganda's Jews in the community's mikvah, a process that continues today.
Abayudaya Jewish Community of Uganda & Be'chol Lashon
In 2002, Rabbi Sizomu and the Abayudaya Executive Council requested that Be'chol Lashon help with long-range planning and financial resource development.
It was the dream of Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, the current Abayudaya leader, to better understand ancient and modern Judaism and connect his community with the global Jewish people. Through the support of a Beíchol Lashon Fellowship, Rabbi Sizomu attended the five-year Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. An ordained rabbi, he returned to Uganda to bring the Ugandan community into mainstream Jewish life, and open a Yeshiva to train teachers and rabbis to serve Jewish communities throughout Africa.
Feasibility research led to the design of the Abayudaya Community Health & Development Plan. Beíchol Lashon fosters good will and cooperation between the Abayudaya Jewish community and their Christian and Muslim neighbors through improved healthcare and community development initiatives that promote peaceful co-existence and help combat anti-Semitism.