Abayudaya: The Jews of Uganda

Told with captivating images, an evocative text, and haunting music on a CD, here is the remarkable story of a courageous group of rural African people who converted to Judaism eighty years ago and, despite ensuing hardships, have stuck by their faith.

The six hundred members of the Abayudaya (Children of Judah) community living in a remote area of eastern Uganda lead a life devoted to traditional Jewish practices. They observe the Sabbath and holidays, attend services, follow dietary laws, and cling tightly to traditions in their small mud and brick synagogues. Surrounded by Muslims and Christians, facing poverty and isolation, these people have maintained their Jewish way of life for four generations since the initial conversion of their tribal chief Semei Kukungulu in 1917. Even during Idi Amin’s reign of terror, when synagogues were closed and prayers had to be held in secret, the Abayudaya did not abandon their beliefs.

Richard Sobol is the first photojournalist to document this newly discovered Jewish community’s way of life and to relate their heroic story. His sensitive portraits and moving landscapes depict everyday life, from caring for children to struggling to grow food. He shows their day of rest on the Jewish Sabbath, as well as their religious celebrations and rituals. His intriguing text, including extensive interviews, chronicles the story of this community from its conception to the present. Supplementing Sobol’s images and text is a CD filled with powerful music and songs from services recorded by ethnomusicologist Jeffrey A. Summit, who has also provided an essay examining this unique mix of African and Jewish sounds.

Other details: 100 full-color illustrations

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