Uganda’s Abayudaya bring a Jewish response to the famine
Abayudaya youth at leisure. Photo: Glenna Gordon
In a sign of the growing organization of Uganda’s Jews, the Abayudaya Jewish community has mobilized like few others to fight the famine that is wreaking havoc on the country’s north.
Some three million people are believed to be affected by the food shortages in 52 districts, caused by drought and improper land use. Some 40 people have already died, a number that is expected to rise in the coming weeks.
On Wednesday, the Jewish community delivered 1,100 kg. of food to the village of Acegerekinei, in the hard-hit Katakwi district. The Ugandan Jews trucked their supplies, mostly corn flour and beans, from their home in the Mbale district about four hours away near the Kenyan border.
The supplies were distributed through the Ugandan Red Cross, with each family receiving 15 kg. of corn flour to make porridge and the staple dish called posho, and about 1.5 kg. of beans.
“I believe that life takes precedence over everything,” said Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, the Conservative-ordained spiritual leader of the Abayudaya Jews. “God is not going to stretch out His hand physically, so we are extensions of God’s arm.”
“Our community responded overwhelmingly to the call to donate. Everybody wanted to help,” Sizomu said.
A statement released by the community noted that “the response was considerable from a community that in large part lives on subsistence farming.”
The Mbale district, too, has experienced less rain than normal this year, the statement emphasized, though in the Abayudaya’s region “crops are still growing.”
“Central to our Jewish values is saving lives,” Sizomu told 65 families from the thatch-roofed village of Acegerekinei gathered to thank the Abayudaya for the shipment. “We wish you well and we pray that God brings this to an end.”
The Abayudaya embraced Judaism during British colonial rule in the 1920s, surviving the country’s political turmoil, persecution by the Idi Amin dictatorship and pressure to convert to Christianity and Islam. Some 1,100 members of the Abayudaya (“people of Judah”) live in Uganda, many of them having undergone Conservative conversion. Some are preparing for Orthodox conversion and hope to make aliya.
The community has called for contributions to its efforts to fight the famine, which can be delivered by writing “Uganda Emergency Fund” in the comments section of a donation on the Web site (www.kulanu.org) of Kulanu, Inc., a US nonprofit that supports development projects in the Abayudaya community.