Scattered throughout the world are communities who have embarked on their own search for Judaism — some despite having no actual history of Jewish descent or heritage. As you may know, I work with a number of these lost and hidden Jewish groups.
I’m hardly the first even in my own neighborhood to be involved in these efforts. A neighbor of mine has been intrigued for years by some of these fascinating communities and has traveled to remote regions to understand and offer support. Most recently, he has taken upon himself to help a particularly needy and deserving community: the Abayudaya of Uganda.
In the 1920s, there lived a man in Uganda, in the village of Nabuguya. Sami Kakangulu was a unique fellow who did his own religious research and for various reasons came to the conclusion that the New Testament was not God’s will.
The main reason he cited was the absence of the most important biblical commandments that affirm our connection with God, such as Shabbat, circumcision, and most of the festivals. In searching for the truth, Sami reached the conclusion that the Torah was meant to be observed literally and this remained true no matter how challenging this observance was.
Little by little, other people in his community became interested, and, slowly, they all began to observe the commandments, to the best of their ability, according to their limited understanding of the Torah; and this, regardless of lack of any actual Jews.
Sami Kakangulu was the governor of a British colonial district, and a charismatic man who decided to dedicate his life to the truth he had discovered in the Bible. Today, the community of “Abayudaya” numbers about 3,000.
In recent years, community members have connected with yeshivas and centers for higher Torah learning in Israel. Their community leaders come and spend time learning, when they can, and once a certain level of proficiency is reached, they return to Uganda where they can lead their people and share their knowledge.
In fact, when my son was in yeshiva near Efrat, there were two young men from Uganda who were spending time learning there for this very reason. The ceremony where they celebrated the completion of their learning program and prepared to return to their community was a beautiful and emotional event, indeed.
Yonatan Segal, my neighbor in Neve Daniel in Israel, has spent much time with the Abayudaya in Uganda as well as with their leaders on trips to Israel. The needs of the community are staggering. Standard things we take for granted like running water, electricity and plentiful food are all a rarity.
The truth is, the poverty there is difficult for most of us to even grasp. The area is not connected to electricity, or water systems; there are no paved roads. Simple things such as Jewish articles and books are a treasure for them. They need help desperately.
Yonatan has taken it upon himself to raise the funds necessary for this historic project to provide the Abaduyada with a proper, respectable center of study to enable instruction in Judaism and Hebrew. The site will also allow distance teaching on the Internet, and on Skype. They are eager to learn, and be a complete part of the Jewish people.
It’s hard to believe but within just six months it is possible to build a permanent building equipped with computers and solar cells on the roof.
They certainly deserve it. After 100 years of past struggle, we can teach, assist and guide the Abayudaya for their future.
You can help the Abayudaya by clicking here.