Uganda’s Jewish community prepare to open new shul
Uganda’s 2,000-strong Jewish community was this week preparing to open the doors of its new shul, nick-named ‘The Flying Synagogue’ because of its wing-shaped roof.
Designed and funded by U.S-based architects and donors, the 7,000 square foot centre for the world-famous Abayudaya (People of Judah) community in Nabagoye will include a kosher shop, child-care centre and food storage facility.
Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, who won a seat in the country’s parliament earlier this year, described the complex as “our Jerusalem,” a century after the community converted to Judaism. “This is a place that gathers our people together,” he said.
San Francisco-based non-profit organisation Be’chol Lashon spearheaded the construction work, after seeing that the old premises were not big enough for all those who wanted to come. Congregants would regularly need to gather outside under trees, whose branches did not shield them from the wet season’s rain.
Be’chol Lashon director Diane Tobin, who has worked with Uganda’s Jews for 14 years, said it was important to understand “that these are not Jews seeking to move to Israel… They want to be recognised as Jews for their own sake, and building infrastructure demonstrates that they are committed to being here in Uganda”.
California-based architect Joshua Yoches designed the shul with “abundant light and passive cooling,” and a shaped roof for rainwater catchment, leading some members of the community to nickname it the “Flying Synagogue”.
It will serve nine villages and act as a centre for religious worship, education and lifecycle events, as well as providing childcare and health and social services, which can also be used to benefit the Abayudaya’s Christian and Muslim neighbours, to build interfaith bonds and decrease the likelihood of anti-Semitism.
“The challenges we have do not discriminate, and we think that living together in harmony is part of this tradition,” said Sizomu, at a press conference in the capital. “It is what we call ‘Tikkun Olam.’”