July 23, 2017
Israel was established as a refuge for Jews suffering in a scenario just like this one. The Jews of Uganda were persecuted heavily by Idi Amin and live in dire poverty, but in spite of all this, they have kept faithful to their Covenant with G-d.
Yet, so far, Benjamin Netanyahu has failed to make any appeal to them to come home to the promise land. Recall that in 2015, Netanyahu asked the Jews of France to make Aliyah. Uganda’s head Rabbi has received no such appeal.
The plight of the Abayudaya Jewish community appears to have been overlooked.
Uganda’s 2,000 Jews have long maintained a modest existence. They live in the east of the country in a hilly, rural area that lacks paved roads, consistent electricity and freely running water.
But this year, the situation for Uganda’s Jewish community, called the Abayudaya, has worsened.
Twenty million people across Africa and the Middle East are now at risk of illness and death due to a famine that is centered in Somalia, Nigeria, Yemen and South Sudan. Caused by a mix of factors, including civil wars, underdeveloped infrastructure and a drought, the famine is “the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the U.N.,” Stephen O’Brien, the emergency relief coordinator for the United Nations, said in March.
“People look dehydrated and starving,” Gershom Sizomu, the community’s rabbi, told JTA on Tuesday. “People got sick and weak, and there are people who died because of complications because of the food shortage. People were already sick, so without food they become weaker and weaker.”
Sizomu told JTA that the Abayudaya, who rely on their own crops to survive, have been hit hard by the drought. While conditions are easing now because the harvest season has arrived for maize and beans, many families are subsisting on one meal a day, he said.
Two community members who already were sick have died of malnutrition.
Fleeing the area is useless, Sizomu added — food shortages are plaguing the cities, too.
The community, whose members converted to Judaism under Conservative auspices about 15 years ago, stays in regular touch with Jewish communities in the United States and Israel. But only one American synagogue has provided famine relief to the Abayudaya.
Beth El, a Conservative congregation in Pittsburgh, had hosted Sizomu for a weekend of Torah study last year, where he mentioned the risk of impending famine. So when 60 congregation members convened last month for the synagogue’s annual meeting, congregation president Cliff Spungen passed around an envelope for donations. It came back filled with $800.
With Rabbis in Israel constantly complaining about the secularization of the country, Ugandan Jews would be a great antidote to this problem.
The Abayudaya follow all Jewish laws closely, including and especially the dietary laws most Jews dismiss. Their fidelity to the Torah, their enthusiastic participation in the rites, and preservation of conservative traditions would be a living example of Jewish life for Israelis – yet few Jews seem to grasp the opportunity they’re passing up!
In 2016, the Jewish Agency recognized this community as Jewish. While the Jewish Agency has a lot of clout over who gets to make Aliyah, the Ministry of the Interior gets the last say on who can come in.
Unfortunately the Ugandan postal system is very unreliable. Requests to make Aliyah to Israel by Chosen Ugandans always get lost in the mail.
Even though most of these Jews would love to be able to live a Jewish life without fearing anti-Semitism from their neighbors or the hardships that plague East Africa, they suddenly stopped trying to immigrate after the Jewish Agency initiated them into the Tribe.
When people started asking why Ugandan Jews weren’t coming to Zion in droves, World Jewry led an effort to funnel millions of dollars into their community as an incentive to stay in a hostile Gentile land.
Diane Tobin, executive director of the nonprofit Be’chol Lashon, which worked with the community to build the synagogue, echoed that the project was about strengthening the community’s status in Uganda.
“It was important to establish that these are Jews who are not seeking to make aliyah to Israel — that’s not the main purpose,” Tobin, who has worked with the community since 2002, told JTA. “They want to be recognized as Jews for their own sake, and building infrastructure demonstrates that they are committed to being there in Uganda.”
So inspiring and kind.
But why so much effort to keep them in Uganda, when they can be served better in Israel?
It’s still a mystery as to why atheists from the West who do not have to deal with cholera or anti-Semitism are given free trips to Israel, but not pious Ugandan Jews.
The motto of Israel is “Never Again!”
Now they can show the world Jewish unity by importing the vibrant Abayudaya!
Let Theodore Herzl’s dream live!
Bring the Ugandan Jews home!