News and updates about the Abayudaya throughout Uganda and the world
by Julia Gergely in JTA, October, 2022.
"Shoshi is a spirited young girl who always has her eye on the prize. In anticipation of her favorite Jewish holiday, Sukkot, she spends many sleepless nights planning for their town’s annual sukkah competition. Shoshi and her brothers, Avram and David, live with their grandmother in the town of Mbale, in eastern Uganda, and they are members of the Jewish community known as the Abayudaya (meaning “People of Judah” in Luganda). They look forward to the sukkah competition all year long — but when a large storm destroys the beautiful, temporary dwellings constructed for the holiday, Shoshi steps up and eventually learns that working together with the community feels even better than winning. So goes the plot of “The Very Best Sukkah: A Story from Uganda,” a new picture book published by Kalaniot Books that is based on the real-life experiences of its author, Shoshana Nambi, a first-time children’s book author and soon-to-be rabbi."
by Dina Gold in Moment Mag, August, 2022.
"A community of observant Orthodox Jews in Uganda, with no genetic link to Israel, wants to make Aliyah. Tamás Wormser (Vie de Chateau, The Wandering Muse, Travelling Light: Artists on the Move) has devoted seven years to charting the lives of this extraordinary community of subsistence farmers, living on the edge of poverty, in a small village called Putti in rural eastern Uganda. When we first meet them, the men are reading from the Torah and the synagogue congregation is singing, in Hebrew, 'Am Yisrael Chai.' Welcome to the extraordinary documentary Shalom Putti."
by Judy Maltz in Haaretz, December 15, 2021.
"In a significant shift in policy, the Jewish Agency has effectively withdrawn its recognition of the Jewish community of Uganda. In practice, this means that members of the 2,000-strong Abayudaya community will no longer be eligible to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return. Neither will they be allowed to participate in government-sponsored Israel experience programs like Birthright and Masa. The change in policy was revealed in response to a question from Haaretz concerning the recent rejection of an aliyah application submitted by a member of this community of converts, which is part of the international Conservative-Masorti movement."
by Judy Maltz in Haaretz, December 13, 2021.
"In a slap in the face to the non-Orthodox denominations, Israel’s Interior Ministry rejected on Monday an application for citizenship under the Law of Return from a member of the Jewish community of Uganda who was converted through the Conservative movement. The application, submitted by Yosef Kibita, was viewed as a test case for the landmark Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that recognized conversions performed in Israel by the Conservative and Reform movements. A member of the 2,000-strong Abayudaya community, Kibita has been living in Israel for four years and his temporary residency visa is due to expire at the end of this month. He is the first member of the community to apply for citizenship under the Law of Return, which governs eligibility for immigrating to Israel."
by Gilbert Mwijuke in The East African, September 3, 2021.
"In the small village of Nabugoye, 224 km east of the capital Kampala near Mbale town, is a synagogue with lush gardens at its frontyard. This is the Stern Synagogue, East African headquarters of the Abayudaaya (meaning “Jews” in the local dialect) community. It is a minority group of Ugandans who profess Judaism. I visited the synagogue on a Saturday, marked as Sabbath (Sabato) – a day it is supposed to be open for prayers – but there was minimal activity due to the Covid-19 restrictions that have kept prayerhouses under lock and key."
by Michael Chernick in The Times of Israel, February 4, 2021.
"The Abayudaya are Ugandan Jews. They have practiced Judaism for 100 years. They began to practice normative Judaism in the 1930s, influenced by a European Jew who taught them about Jewish practices as they were observed by Jews around the world. As the Abayudaya became more aware of the world Jewish community, they wanted to fully legitimize their membership in it. They realized that they had never formally converted to Judaism, and so they decided to do so under the auspices of recognized denominations. From 2002 until 2016, 1,600 Abayudaya converted under the aegis of the Conservative movement and 400 converted with an Orthodox bet din (religious court) supervised by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel."
by Judy Maltz in Haaretz, January 25, 2021.
"After years of deliberation, the Interior Ministry has determined that members of the Jewish community of Uganda are not eligible to immigrate to Israel. The Jewish Agency had ruled several years ago that they are, but the Interior Ministry has the upper hand in such matters. The decision was revealed in the state’s response on Tuesday to a petition filed in the High Court of Justice by a member of the community whose request to immigrate had been rejected. Minister of Interior Arye Dery and the Population and Immigration Authority are listed as respondents in the case. A ruling in favor of the state could have serious repercussions for “emerging Jewish communities” around the world interested in connecting to Israel. This would include “Bnei Anusim” – descendants of Jews forced to convert during the Spanish and Portuguese inquisitions – as well as communities that claim descent from the “Lost Israelite tribes” and entire communities of converts in South America. The High Court is scheduled to hold a hearing in the case on February 3."
by Judy Maltz in Haaretz, January 5, 2020.
"The first-ever Israeli wedding of Ugandan Jews took place on Saturday at a Conservative synagogue in Jerusalem. The bride and groom – Rivkah Nabulo, 23, and Rabbin Asiimwe, 30 – are both members of the 2,000-strong Abayudaya community, which has yet to be officially recognized by Israel. Among the largest emerging Jewish communities in the world, the Abayudaya began practicing Judaism about 100 years ago but were only officially converted in recent years – mainly by rabbis affiliated with the Conservative (or Masorti) movement. Nearly 80 guests attended the wedding, held at Kehilat Moreshet Avraham on Saturday evening. Invitees included prominent Conservative and Reform rabbis in Israel and several young members of the Abayudaya community who are currently participating in educational programs in Israel."
by Ilanit Chernick in The Jerusalem Post, September 16, 2019.
"Between the cornfields and the banana trees sits a synagogue in the Ugandan village of Putti.This is how Jonah Stocki described in amazement the location of a rural synagogue that is home to some 100 Abayudaya in Uganda.The Jerusalem Post sat down this week with two yeshiva students who recently spent time volunteering in Putti and the town of Mukono. 'At the beginning of last year I had no clue that there were Jews living between South Africa and Israel,' explained Stocki, who is originally from Modi’in and is studying at the Robert M. Beren Machanaim Hesder Yeshiva at Ohr Torah Stone in Gush Etzion.But following a visit from nine Ethiopian Jews, Stocki discovered that there were communities in Ethiopia, Uganda and elsewhere in Africa, and he wanted to volunteer in Ethiopia.Soon after, Stocki and fellow student Etai Kozlovski became friendly with a fellow student named Moshe Yashiirah Madoi, a rabbi from Putti learning in their seminary."
by David Breakstone in The Jerusalem Post, July 24, 2019.
"'How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, thy dwelling places, O Israel.' I’d never appreciated the power of these words until pronouncing them a few days ago overlooking the village of Nabagoya, center of the Abayudaya Jewish community of Uganda. I was there for its centennial celebrations, offering congratulations on behalf of the Jewish Agency. After spending four days in the area, I’d come to understand that the Biblical “goodliness” has far more to do with “godliness” than with anything tangible. The homes of the Abayudaya are modest, to say the least. With precious few exceptions, they have no electricity or running water. Simple brick blocks or wooden shacks with earthen floors – barely furnished and, by Western standards, also unfinished, often lacking windows and doors. The unpaved roads turn to mud when it rains. Children run about barefoot. Next to most, maize, mangoes and matoka (a local plantain cooked like potatoes) grow on tiny plots of land. The overwhelming majority of the villagers survive on subsistence farming. Here and there, a few chickens, an occasional goat and a scarce cow roam freely."
Israel Rules Not to Recognize Ugandan Jewish Community
by Judy Maltz in Haaretz, May 31, 2018.
"After years of deliberations, the Israeli Interior Ministry has resolved not to grant recognition to the Jewish community of Uganda, Haaretz has learned. Its decision was revealed in a response to the first and only request thus far by a member of the 2,000-strong Ugandan Abayudaya community, who sought to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return."
by Rodney Muhumuza in AP, December 21, 2016.
"Seth Yonadav swaggered along a dirt path in rural Uganda, pointing toward the new synagogue where young men wearing yarmulkes lingered. Up on a hill the synagogue stood like a crown jewel, surrounded by schools and a guest house, all owned and operated by a small community of Jewish believers in this remote hamlet founded by a single convert a century ago. The Stern Synagogue, built largely with money donated by Americans, is a source of pride for hundreds of Ugandan Jews known locally as the Abayudaya, who have tenaciously maintained their belief despite the prejudice they have suffered over the years in this Christian-dominated country. The community continues to pursue formal recognition from Israel, which would give it a further sense of inclusion. The Jewish Agency, a nonprofit that works closely with the Israeli government to serve Jewish communities worldwide, has recognized the Abayudaya since 2009, spokesman Avi Mayer said."
by Rose Kaplan in Tablet, April 14, 2016.
"Five years ago, Tablet's Michael Fishbane reported on the fascinating saga of the Abayudaya Jews of Eastern Uganda, joining Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, the community’s spiritual leader, on his first, ultimately unsuccessful campaign for the Ugandan Parliament. In between dispatches from the campaign trail, Fishbane traces the roots of the Abayudaya from their origins as early 20th-century converts, to their persecution under Idi Amin’s dictatorship, to their current quest for recognition and fellowship under the wide tent of world Jewry."
by Gershom Sizomu in The Times of Israel, April 12, 2014.
"As we celebrate Passover, it is important to remember that as great as the miracle of the Exodus was, freedom was only the beginning. I know this from reading the Torah, but I also know from personal experience. I was born in Uganda to Jewish parents at a time when it was illegal to be a Jew in my country. Uganda’s dictator, Idi Amin, was a modern-day Pharaoh, outlawing everything Jewish from prayer to practice. Many of our Jewish elders, including my father, the community rabbi, were beaten and imprisoned. Our synagogue was destroyed. Under these dangerous conditions, most of the 3,000 Jews in Uganda abandoned their faith."
by Gershom Sizomu in My Jewish Learning, March 25, 2014.
"At Passover, every person is supposed to feel as though he himself left Egypt. For me and the Jewish community of Uganda, we do not need to imagine. In our lifetime, we were rescued from ‘slavery’ and saved by divine intervention in order to celebrate. When Field Marshal Iddi Amin Dada took power in Uganda by way of the gun in 1971, he outlawed Judaism and confiscated our synagogues and most of the Hebrew books. Practice of Judaism was punishable by death. He was a modern day Pharaoh. He gave the community two alternatives, either to convert to Islam or Christianity, or remain unaffiliated. He murdered anyone suspected of opposing his rule and judicial executions were the order of the time. Many Abayudaya feared for their lives and converted to the two majority religions, Islam and Christianity. However, things did not go well for the Christians either. The Archbishop of the Church of Uganda was run over by army trucks in a stage-managed accident; and the chief Justice, who was also Christian, was shot dead on Amin’s orders."
by Ben Sales in JTA, March 23, 2014.
"NABUGOYE, Uganda (JTA) — On Fridays at sundown, the Jewish residents of this village set amid the lush hills of eastern Uganda gather in the synagogue to greet Shabbat. The room is bare, the light is dim and the Conservative prayer books are worn. But the spare surroundings do little to diminish the enthusiasm of the men, women and children who sing psalms, clap and dance while a few in the front strum guitars and play drums. Two days later and an hour away in the village of Putti, a handful of men wake at sunrise and trudge into a narrow room lit only by sunbeams streaming through the nearby banana trees. Those who have tefillin wrap them, while the rest sit on hard benches behind oblong wooden desks reading from traditional Orthodox prayer books with crumbling bindings. A sheet hung by a string demarcates an empty women’s section. At the front of the room hangs an Israeli flag. Until the early 2000s, the two communities were one. Known as the Abayudaya, the 2,000-member group has practiced Judaism for about a century, owing to a former community leader who read the Bible and adopted the religion."