African rabbi to visit South Florida

Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, a third generation leader of the Abayudaya Jews in Uganda, will visit South Florida early next month to speak at several synagogues and Jewish day schools in Broward and Palm Beach Counties.

Sizomu, who is the first black rabbi from sub-Saharan Africa to be ordained at an American rabbinic school, will speak during 6:30 p.m. May 6 Shabbat eve services at B’nai Aviv in Weston, at the 8:45 a.m. May 7 service at Congregation B’nai Torah in Boca Raton, at 7:30 p.m. May 9 at Congregation Beth Ahm in Cooper City, and at 7 p.m. May 10 at Temple Dor Dorim in Weston.

In an email to the Jewish Journal Sizomu said that American Jews are curious about how the people in his Jewish community in Uganda became Jews.

When the British colonized Uganda, missionaries introduced a powerful leader named Semei Kakungulu to Christianity, Sizomu said. Kakungulu embraced the Old Testament and “in 1919 the community began to practice Judaism,” he said.

The community decided after strongman Idi Amin left power that it didn’t want to be an isolated Jewish community but instead wanted to “connect with Jews around the world and use those connections to grow and strengthen the Jewish community in Uganda,” Sizomu said.

In 2003 he was awarded a fellowship from Be’chol Lashon in the United States to attend the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies program at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. Sizomu was ordained in 2008 and returned to Uganda to lead his Jewish community and establish a yeshiva.

“I wanted to go to rabbinic school in the U.S. so that I could learn the rabbinic traditions in Judaism in a formal way, as my community started with a Torah-based tradition,” he said.

Abayudaya, the tribal name, means “people of Judah.”

Lorelei Ennis, co-chair with her husband Dr. Robert Ennis of the Israel Solidarity Committee at Temple Dor Dorim, said she was fascinated by the concept of another Jewish community as far away as Uganda and wanted Sizomu to speak to the congregation and synagogue school students.

“Even though they look different from us, they are a part of our people. I see a connection,” Ennis said. “[Sizomu] has brought authenticity to the group. He’s making them a strong and vibrant community.”

The Abayudaya Jews are a very unusual Jewish community that parallels Jewish communities throughout history, said Rabbi David Steinhardt of Congregation B’nai Torah in Boca Raton.

The community rejected Christianity over a century ago and went into hiding when Idi Amin came to power he said.

Amin was deposed on the eve of Passover and the Jewish community was reborn, Steinhardt said. “It is a highly committed and highly spirited community,” he added. “Their message is our message and their Torah is our Torah.”

Vivian and Glenn Grossman are bringing Sizomu to South Florida and will host him at their home in Weston. Their son Joshua will have his bar mitzvah at the Abayudaya synagogue in July.
(Tags: Gershom Sizomu, Uganda, History, Abayudaya)