Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism · language · rabbi · Shabbos/Shabbat · Sukkot

Spend a Shabbat in Uganda

Photo by Judy Gigliotti/Be’chol Lashon

“Sukkat Shalom: From Uganda to U.S. and Back” in The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles follows Rabbi Gershom Sizomu returns to lead the followers of Judaism in Uganda after being ordained in Los Angeles. (Of notable mention this time of year, Sizomu’s grandfather was arrested for building a sukkah in Uganda at a time when it was illegal to openly practice Judaism.)

From the handheld showerheads that stream cold water to the songs transliterated into Luganda and the white mosquito netting that helps prevent malaria, writer Amy Klein paints a vivid picture of the Jewish lives of the Conservative converts in Uganda.

While I disagree with Rabbi Sizomu’s statement that he chose to study at a Conservative seminary because “Conservative theology is the middle ground between two extremes,” I did find the article thoughtprovoking. While facing economic issues that might seem unimaginable to Western eyes living much more comfortable (Jewish) lives, this Ugandan community has gone to great lengths to bring Judaism to their far corner of the world.

This story of African converts is a mixed bag that will surprise and shock, trouble some and inspire and amaze others.

4 thoughts on “Spend a Shabbat in Uganda

  1. Rabbi Gershom and his tribe did not go Conservative for theological reasons (that´s an afterthought, and as you say, debatable: every “ideology” is extreme unto itself). The Abayudaya converted Conservative because no Orthodox rabbi had the courage to do it (I believe they tried going through the Rabbanut). Conversion in the Orthodox world is too fraught with intrigue and people “checking on tzitzis” and outfrumming each other, especially when the candidates are not WASPY Skipper look-alike brides for cookie cut Mesivta of Bumblenowhere, Long Island alumni, or Poloshirted athletic Ken clonnages for their Seminary counterparts. Simply ask the Orthodox rabbis that work explicitly with Jews of Color.

    That is the reason I underwent a Conservative conversion, why I am a Conservative Jew and eventually became a Conservative Rabbi. I can be as frumm as I want but no one will get in the way of me doing the right thing.

    (My favorite thing is the fountain in the picture. The Abayudaya, like Yitzkhak Avinu are diggers of wells.)

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  2. Bloom, this isn't the first time I've heard that. I did read in earlier stories about the Abayudaya and other similar communities) that they had trouble finding an Orthodox rabbi to work with them.

    In fact, again and again, I am hearing the same tale from many prospective converts (white or of color)…Orthodox conversion is too complicated. The paperwork, the community checks and balance, finding a rabbi, finding a community.

    I'm doing my small part to help the converts who come to me but I can understand why you chose the route that you did.

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