Uganda’s first Jewish centre will serve a little-known community of 4000 Jews

Uganda’s first Jewish centre will serve a little-known community of 4000 Jews

The Abayudaya community has embraced Judaism but is not recognised by Israel’s Orthodox establishment.

Theodor Herzl, the visionary of the Jewish state, wanted to settle Jews in Uganda.

It didn’t happen, of course, but a Ugandan Jewish community has evolved in the heart of the jungle, a six-hour drive from Entebbe airport and about 15kms from the nearest city, Mbale.

“The phenomenon of Judaism in Uganda is relatively new and was not recognised until the 1930s, when the Abayudaya community formed,” says Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum, a researcher of Diaspora Jewish communities and head of the Ohr Torah Stone Nidchei Israel organisation.

“It is a very painful subject. Ultimately, we were born Jews, but they chose of their own free will to be Jews. They are 100% committed to their Jewish identity; the problem is that, according to Jewish law, it is not enough for you to say, ‘I want to be a Jew.’ A religious court that represents the Jewish people must also tell the convert ‘Welcome,’ which is the process of conversion.”

The Putti Jewish Community (PJC) is part of the Abayudaya (Children of Judah), approximately 4000 in number, and who reside in eight villages in eastern Uganda. 

With the help of donations from private sources in Israel, they are building Uganda’s first Jewish centre, including facilities for the local Jewish kindergarten and school.

There are two groups that are part of the Abayudaya, with synagogues about 5kms apart. The original group underwent a Conservative conversion  about 25 years ago. The second group is called Sheerit Yisrael (the Remnant of Israel’), which includes the residents of Putti. They are interested in Orthodox conversion and have been waiting for it for years. 

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‘This guarantees the continuity of Judaism in Uganda’: African nation’s first Jewish centre taking shape (Ynet)

Photo: The Abayudaya of Uganda during prayer (Photo: Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum)