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Abayudaya isn’t Mumbo Jumbo

Ari Z. Zivotofsky and Ari Greenspan

We thought we’d seen everything on our halachic adventures, but hacking through the African bush to find a kosher mikveh or a tucked-away synagogue was a first. Yet the Abayudaya hope that one day, their community will not only copy the ancient rituals, but that this African tribe will actually find its way into the hearts and into the life of the Jewish People.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Kiruv andUganda are not words that usually run together. Yet in the darkest depths of Africa lives a group of people who — although not halachically Jewish — are sincerely committed to Yiddishkeit, striving against the odds to live Jewish lives and hoping one day to undergo proper conversion. Indeed, deep in this equatorial African country, together with the gorillas and baboons, there has been a quasi-Jewish presence for almost a century and in recent years this unusual community, known as the Abayudaya, has even built a mikveh and sent two of its young men to study in yeshivah inIsrael. And we were interested in helping them. Over the last few years we’ve made three challenging journeys to visit the Abayudaya and share their story.

Of course, we can’t talk about the trek through the forests ofUgandawithout mentioning the first time we arrived in the country atEntebbeInternationalAirport, near the capital ofKampala. But even beforeEntebbe, we were reminded ofIsrael’s long arm in far-awayAfrica.

In order to reachUganda, we had to stop inNairobi,Kenya. But something about theNairobiairport threw us off balance: it looked like the doorposts had mezuzahs on them! Were we hallucinating? Actually, it turns out that the rooms had once been the local El Al offices, and even when the Israeli airlines left, the locals insisted the mezuzahs stay. Regards fromIsrael— now we knew we were never really far away.

Uganda, and especiallyEntebbe, conjures up one image — the miraculous rescue mission by the IDF of Jewish hostages on July 4, 1976, the day of theUSbicentennial. Those old enough to remember it surely recall where they were on that day.


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