History of the Abayudaya
Learn about the Jews of Uganda and our long relationship with them.
Be’chol Lashon built the Abayudaya guest house to capture a desperately needed stream of revenue given the expanding tourism. The Abayudaya community members had been hosting individuals in their homes, providing food and lodging without compensation. The guest house and other projects provide business opportunities that help movethe community towards economic self-sufficiency. Another economic development project is Abayudaya Crafts made by the women including jewelry and kippot. The jewelry is made from recycled magazine beads strung with colorful wood or elegant metal accent beads. The women take a tremendous sense of personal accomplishment and pride knowing the work they do helps their families and their community.
At the same time, the report revealed distributing mosquito nets was another critical component of disease prevention. Thousands of mosquito nets have been purchased and distributed through the local synagogues and a constant supply of mosquito nets is needed to replace those that are old and/or have holes. A 2007 study featured in the New York Times cites “…insecticide-filled nets, when used by 80% or more of a village, create a barrier that kills or drives off mosquitoes, protecting everyone in the area, including those without nets…” Overall, the wells and tap stands have had a significant impact on reducing the mortality rate.
Education about preventing disease significantly reduces a variety of health concerns, particularly malaria, the primary cause of death in Africa. The feasibility report revealed that the only available source of clean water was from wells located long distances from the villages, and the villagers often resorted to getting water from polluted ditches, lakes, etc. Additionally, women and girls were primarily responsible for getting water from the wells and carrying it back to their homes in “jerry cans” or 20 kgs (44lb) water containers. Water, a basic human right, is at the heart of a daily crisis faced by millions of the world’s most vulnerable people, therefore, the first step was providing clean water. Be’chol Lashon launched the Abayudaya Community Health & Development Plan in March 2007 with the drilling of the first well in Nabagoye, followed by Namanyoni, Nangolo, Nasenyi and Namutumba.
Be’chol Lashon conducted feasibility research that resulted in the Abayudaya Health & Development Plan to implement health care delivery and support systems. Research was conducted by a JDC engineer and a tropical disease specialist. Mbale Hospital was severely overcrowded due to lack of disease prevention. Lack of clean water and mosquito nets cause diseases such as dysentery, amoebas, infections, tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS to flourish, resulting in high morbidity and mortality rates. The report revealed that the most vital Abayudaya community needs were improved disease prevention, healthcare, and developing a sustainable economy.
It was the dream of Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, the current Abayudaya leader, to better understand ancient and modern Judaism and connect his community with the global Jewish people. Through the support of a Be’chol Lashon Fellowship, Rabbi Sizomu attended the five-year Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, including 1-year spent in Israel.
Even though the Abayudaya regard themselves as Jews, they realized that their isolation from the Jewish world was both dangerous and an obstacle to gaining a deeper understanding of Judaism. Beginning in the spring of 2002, at the community’s request, four Conservative rabbis from the United States and one from Israel joined the community’s spiritual leader, Gershom Sizomu, in supervising the conversion or “affirmation” of most of Uganda’s Jews in the community’s mikvah, a process that continues today. In 2002, Gershom Sizomu attended the Be’chol Lashon International Think Tank for Jewish community leaders around the world. Sizomu and the democratically elected Abayudaya Executive Council requested that Be’chol Lashon help with long-range planning and financial resource development.
After the fall of Amin in 1979, the remnants of the Abayudaya community gathered to rebuild the community. Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, grandson of community elder “Rabbi” Samson, lives near the Moses Synagogue in the village of Nabagogye which he and others from the community’s early 1980s “Kibbutz movement” built with their own hands. He was youth leader of the Abayudaya community from 1988 to 1998. Their goal was to gather what was left of the Abayudaya community back together after the devastating reign of Idi Amin Dada ended in 1979.
The Abayudaya, whose tribal name means “People of Judah,” trace their Jewish origins to the turn of the twentieth century. The Abayudaya began their journey to Judaism under the leadership of Semei Kakungulu, a powerful leader who was selected to be a Christian missionary for the British. However, Kakungulu favored the Hebrew Bible and in 1919 the community began practicing Judaism. After Kakungulu’s death in 1928, some members drifted away. In 1971, Idi Amin Dada came to power, and banned Jewish practice. Many in the community were forced to convert to other religions.
Rabbi Gershom Sizomu's Fall 2019 Speaking Tour
Late November - early December 2019
Bring Rabbi Sizomu to visit your community this fall!
Support the Abayudaya
The Abayudaya Microcredit Fund provides an opportunity for entrepreneurial community members facing poverty to solve their own local problems through sustainable economic projects.