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Back To The “Promised Land”… Of Uganda

Yitzchak Carmeli

Fueled by a desire to discover more about the Abubayada, a tribe whose leader, Samai Kakungulu, decided to convert Judaism in the 1920s but never actually managed to do so, Yitzchak Carmeli took a trip to Uganda, once offered by the British government as a possible Jewish state, and ended his trip in Entebbe airport, site of the incredible rescue of Jewish hostages in one of the most daring commando missions of all time.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The welcoming committee to Entebbe, Uganda did not wait for me to disembark from the airplane. An annoying mosquito would not stop buzzing in my ear on my plane ride to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In harmony to the mosquito’s symphony, my Ugandan seatmate jabbered in my other ear incessantly, imploring me time and again to lean back so I would not block his view through the window.

I have always been fascinated by the tale of the Abayudaya tribe in and its leader and founder, Samai Kakungulu. The story goes that Kakungulu, a key figure in Ugandan politics in the early 1920s, eventually converted to Judaism, and that many of his clan followed him. They named themselves Abayudaya, with the obvious connection to Yehudi, and they kept Torah and mitzvos. Over the course of decades after his death in 1928, ties to the tribe were lost. Occasional messages sent to Israel by Abayudaya members indicated that once their leader had died, the community dwindled. Many converted to Christianity, and intermarriage threatened to wipe out the rest.

In the 1960s, Jews worldwide began to take an interest in the tribe, and it witnessed a rejuvenation, with many people joining the descendants of the original members who still identified themselves as Abayudaya. I was always curious as to what these people, so far removed from the rest of world Jewry, could keep, and finally, thanks to honorary Ugandan consul to Israel Amos Golan, I was able to make the trip to find out for myself.

 

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