culture/multiculturalism · food · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism · Los Angeles

Searching for the promised land

This video on followers of Judaism in Uganda is quick to point out that these people are not the Falasha, the Ethiopian Jews whose claim to Jewish ancestry has given them the opportunity to utilize the Law of Return. They have come to Judaism despite the lack of Jewish ancestry and have become fiercely drawn to Judaism and Israel.

Hat tip for this video: Daas Torah.

“Freshly-ordained Ugandan rabbi gets ball rolling on returning home”, an article last year in The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, spotlighted Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, the African-born Chief Rabbi of Uganda who received ordination from an American rabbinical school, the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, and performed 250 Conservative conversions in Uganda in July 2008.

The JTA article, “Abayudaya Jews deliver relief to famine-plagued Ugandans” (8/2/09) offers a more recent look at the Ugandan community. And Kulanu (“All of Us” in Hebrew), founded in 1994, a non-profit organization which helps isolated Jewish communities around the world has coordinated with the Abayudayan community for a Fall 2009 Kulanu-Abayudayan Speaking Tour.

6 thoughts on “Searching for the promised land

  1. Aliza,

    As acknowledged in the video, according to Orthodox Judaism the Abayudaya are not Jews. The Abayudaya (including “Rabbi” Sizomu) have embraced non-Orthodox Judaism so it is highly unlikely they will ever be recognized as Jews by the State of Israel and mainstream Orthodoxy. I also believe that their association with a particular faction of ultra-liberal Orthodox Judaism has done serious damage to their credibility, precluding future Orthodox mainstreaming via a universally recognized Orthodox conversion.

    Th Abayudaya are truly nothing like Ethiopian Jews, or other indigenous peoples that have adopted traditional Judaism and have ultimately been recognized by Medinat Israel as Jews, such as the Bnai Menashe of India and the Bnai Moshe of Peru.

    It's strange that you reference the Daat Torah web site. It does not appear that Rabbi Eidensohn of the Daat Torah blog shares the sentiment of your comment there, “It never ceases to amaze me how people discover Judaism and become so drawn to it that they wish to be Jewish, too.” Rabbi Eidensohn's approach is strictly in-line with Torah values and does not in any way appear to be a supporter of the Abayudaya as recognized Jews. If anything, he appears to be a detractor of the current state of the Abayudaya.

    Aliza, you identify yourself as an Orthodox Jew. As such, it is disheartening that you give any credence to the Abayudaya as members of the Jewish People.


  2. It may be possible that at some point down the line, the Abayudaya may have an Orthodox conversion. In the video, the Orthodox couple staying with them say that this would be the only way to get recognition in Israel. I imagine that if Orthodox rabbis were to reach out, they would find themselves welcomed but it seems that in cases like these, it is always non-Orthodox rabbis who are most welcoming. What I give credence to is a people who is very much in love with Judaism.


  3. Strange Days Indeed,

    First and foremost, the government of Israel recognizes non Orthodox conversions performed outside of Israel. They are permitted to immigrate to Israel and would even have Jew designated on their passport. The Supreme Court of Israel ruled in their favor. Abayudayas can indeed become Israelis if they wish to become citizens. Similar to the way many people who are Jews under patrilineal decent must go abroad for marriage, the Abayudayas would have to go to Cyprus to have wedding ceremonies performed. Eventually, civil marriages will be performed in Israel, and this will certainly change things.

    I think many people in the frum community are not cognizant of how their behavior influences whether or not someone or a community seeks an Orthodox conversion. Bechol Lashon noted that the leadership of the Abayudaya community considered subsequent Orthodox conversions,but realized they could be called into question because the current climate, and decided to stay Conservative. This conversion climate is pushing sincere people into liberal Judaism.

    It is important to note that the Ethiopians ARE Jewish, even the reading of the megillah during Purim acknowledges their existence, yet they are treated horribly in the frum world. There is the recent maltreatment of Noga Zoraish and the segregation of Ethiopian schoolchildren in frum schools.

    If you knew this is how the frum world would treat your children, would that motivate you to convert?
    Several Orthodox Jews of African descent have admitted that they cannot encourage disenfranchised Jews of color to stay in the community because of the hostile racial climate. The only answer they forsee is creating brick and mortar institutions that meet their needs because they know the large Ashkenazi organizations will not change.

    Honestly, with the recent scandals in Orthodoxy we will have few buyers. There are liberal rabbis and atheist who are displaying higher levels of the ethics of our fathers than members of our own community. Conversions are down. We're too divided. Why would anyone want to join us when we can't get our own community together?


  4. It never ceases to amaze me how often Rabbi Eidensohn (and his psychofantic chorus of yes men) misses the point (see for example his treatment of Rabbi Manny Viñas). Who died and appointed him gatekeeper of the Jewish people? I have met Rabbi Sizomu in person and his commitment to Torah, Mitzvot, Hashem and his community is paramount. His community is not “self-converted”. 800 people were converted by American Conservative rabbis eight years ago, and Rabbi Sizomu has convened several batei din since he returned to Africa two years ago. They have six synagogues and a yeshiva, a hospital, a school, a coffee plantation, aside from many wells open to whomever wants to drink from them (a mayor Kiddush Hashem).

    Pity that Rabbi Eidensohn is “chosed biksheirim”. Pity that the TV5 reporter cannot tell the difference between Reform and Conservative. Pity that the Orthodox volunteer that is supposed to help them is giving them the wrong legal information. Pity that the Abayudaya (like the anusim and every other Jew of color) are being portrayed as starving golddiggers eager to suck the marrow of proper Jewish institutions and the State of Israel.

    I share Aliza´s sentiment of wonder, but I cringe at the sight of the travesty of this documentary and the cruel incitement rabbis can be capable of.


  5. Well, I would say that the so-called “Daas torah” blog is a very telling example of what could put gerim off: a Rabbi converts a Ger, and then Rav Eidensohn comes and tells the world why he thinks the Giur is not valid, why the Giur should not have been done, etc.

    He does not care that he hurts the feelings of serious Gerim, the main thing is to fight a fellow Rabbi.

    This is the impression i got from this blog that calls itself Daas Torah after following it for about 18 months.


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