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Intro to the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda

12/01/2023 03:55:33 PM


Prepared and Collected by Cantor Barbara

Abayudaya History Timeline

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 Kakungulu’s 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.

Music in Abayudaya Life

Music is a significant part of Jewish life in Uganda, and it is an inspirational part of the life of the Abayudaya Jews who live there. Since the inception of the Abayudaya Jewish community in 1919, singing has been a major component of worship. They saw how other religious groups used local beats and tunes, and have used music to engage and grow their community. They decided that there was a need to create a sound that would be simultaneously as Jewish and African as their community.

In recent decades, as Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, the community leader, and other community members looked to engage and enliven prayer, they build on traditional Jewish liturgy and themes, blending, Hebrew, English and Lugandan. The music of the Abayudaya is compelling and lively and has traveled far beyond Uganda.

Abayudaya: Music from the Jewish People of Uganda From Smithsonian Folkways.

Sing for Joy: Abayudaya Jews • Uganda Album by Rabbi Gershom Sizomu and the Abayudaya community.

Shalom Everybody Everywhere! Introducing the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda, Kohavim Tikvah Choir, released by Kulanu.

Thu, May 23 2024 15 Iyyar 5784