Rabbi from Uganda to visit Beth David as scholar-in-residence

The spiritual leader of the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda will visit Congregation Beth David as this year?s Scholar-in-Residence February 28 to March 2. Rabbi Gershom Sizomu is a research fellow at the Institute for Jewish and Community Research and is attending the Zeigler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism, Los Angeles.

Abayudaya is a local term that means ?the people of Judah.? The Jews of Uganda trace their roots to Semei Kakungulu, a missionary for the British who favored the Hebrew Bible, and spread its teachings at the turn of the twentieth century. The community existed in virtual isolation until recently, knowing only biblical Judaism. Today, approximately 600 members of the Abayudaya community live among the rolling, green hills of eastern Uganda within several miles of Mbale, the third largest city in Uganda. In 2002, at the community?s request, a Conservative bet din supervised the conversion of most of the Abayudaya community members.

Rabbi Sizomu earned a BA in education from Islamic University, Uganda. He was his community?s religious leader and mohel, taught in their high school, and was a youth leader for many years. He plays guitar and writes music for the community. He has produced a CD of Ugandan Jewish music: ?Sing for Joy: Abayudaya Jews – Uganda.? He and his wife Tziporah perform Ugandan Jewish music and lecture about Jews in Uganda. They have three children: Igaal, Dafnah, and Navah.

Rabbi Sizomu is convinced that the right decision about where to establish the State of Israel was in the Middle East and not in his native Uganda, as Theodore Herzl once proposed. ?It?s better because there?s a historical connection in this land more than in Uganda,? he told the Jerusalem Post in 2005 while doing rabbinical studies in Israel. There?s a temptation to make aliyah, he said, ?but I have no choice but to go back to Uganda, because whatever I?m doing is in behalf of the community back there.? He spoke of opening a yeshiva, the first in tropical Africa, and taking back Jewish knowledge to ?give Jewish life to those communities.”

He credits the Conservative movement for ?opening a door for our community to enter the (wider) Jewish world,? he told JTA. When Idi Amin took power in Uganda, he outlawed Judaism. Rabbi Sizomu remembers the overthrow of Amin in 1979, two days before Pesach. ?It was a real celebration of freedom,? he recalled.

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