Ugandan rabbi heads to South Suburbs to celebrate Sabbath

An international celebration no one could have imagined earlier this year will come together Saturday morning, May 9, in Olympia Fields.

Rabbi Gershom Sizumu, a dynamic force in sub-Saharan education and health, as well as spiritual leader of the Abayadaya Jews in Uganda, will conduct the 10 a.m. Sabbath services at the historic Temple Anshe Sholom on Western Avenue.

Sizumu is the first black rabbi in sub-Saharan African to be ordained at an American theological institution. He represents a century of African Jewish history that survived through the tyranny of Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator during the 1970s,

He will share his knowledge and experiences as he leads the Hebrew Sabbath service at Anshe Sholom.

“I’m very excited,” Rabbi Paul Caplan, Temple Anshe Sholom’s longtime spiritual leader said by phone on Thursday.

“This shared religious observance that brings two distant continents and very diverse cultures together was not on anyone’s radar until March,” Caplan recalled. He and Chicago Rabbinic Council colleague Rabbi Capers Funnye started chatting during an event.

Funnye, spiritual leader of Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Congregation on South Kedzie Avenue in Chicago asked Caplan if he would like to join him and host the dynamic Ugandan rabbi at some point in the near future.

Caplan did not hesitate.

“This is a dream come true,” Caplan continued. “You have to call it ‘beshert,’ (which translates as) ‘meant to be.’ All the stars came together.”

Working through Be’Chol Lashon, a California-based organization of Jewish people, educators and speakers from around the world (https://bechollashon.org) the two Chicagoland rabbis and local philanthropic foundations pulled this historic visit together in just two months. Funnye and members of his congregation will join the Sabbath celebration in Olympia Fields.

The Saturday morning service will resonate with anyone familiar with the Hebrew language, Caplan said.

“The prayers will be the same as will the songs,” Caplan said. “But the melodies will be Ugandan, African. People at the service will know the words, the songs, the language that bind the Jewish people together, but the music will be fresh, new.

“Elements of Judaism go beyond religion. There is a shared culture, the Hebrew language, the history and connections that bring Jewish people together throughout the world.

“Racial divides on the news are not the whole story. Through Judaism, there are many points of light in today’s world.”

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