Contributed by: Nicole Zetler | Last Date of Travel: April 2010
Kosher Info: The Jewish ‘centre’ of Uganda is found just outside the town of Mbale (about 4 hour drive from the capital city , Kampala). The Abayudaya community practice Kashrut, and have a kosher ‘supermarket’ in their vicinity. All meat is slaughtered according to the Kashrut laws and is supervised by the local Rabbi. There is also a guest house that can be visited for overnight stays. The community keep Shabbat and it is common for visitors to spend Shabbat with the community – going to the shul and having traditional Shabbat meals with the community members. The community also celebrate all the Jewish festivals and if the necessary kosher food items are not available, it will be sourced from relevant locations (e.g. for Pesach, matzah was imported from the USA).
Travel Info: Once dubbed the “Pearl of Africa” by Winston Churchill at the turn of the 20th century, Uganda is not only rich in resources, but also a tropical and scenic place that offers travelers a beautiful adventure. Popular tourist activities include going on Gorilla safaris, standing across the Equator line, visiting the source of the Nile River in the town of Jinja; and Bujagali falls. Kampala is the capital and the main business hub.
Most of the country is dedicated to some form of agriculture which makes the country very green and lush. Ugandans are generally very hospitable, gentle and kind people. They like to socialize and there are many pubs and clubs open to all hours of the night.
Although most of my travel in Uganda has been for business purposes, it is a great destination for tourism. While visiting the Mbale area for work I contacted one of the Abayudaya community members who showed me around the Jewish area. His name is Samson Shadrak and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org. His tour company is called Shalom Tours Uganda available on http://www.shalomtoursuganda.com
Being in East Africa, it is also very closely situated to other tourist hubs like Kenya (about 1 hour via air travel) and Tanzania.
Jewish Info: The Abayudaya (Luganda term for “People of Judah”) are a community near the town of Mbale, Uganda who practice Judaism. Although these Ugandan Jews are not historically related to other ethnic Jews, they are recognized by most sects of Conservative and Reform Jews. The Abayudaya are more than 1000 members strong and are devout in their Jewish practice – keeping Shabbat and kashrut; following all the Jewish festivals and traditions; reading and writing Hebrew; and having regular Shiurim etc.
The Abayudaya owes its origin to military leader Semei Kakungulu (the current High School is named after him). Upon studying the Bible, Kakungulu came to believe that the laws described in the Old Testament were true and started following Jewish practices. In particular, in 1919 Kakungulu circumcised his sons and himself and declared that his community was Jewish. In 1920, a foreign Jew known as “Yosef” (he had European roots) arrived and taught the Abayudaya community about Judaism for approximately 6 months; and also brought the Jewish calendar and its festivals into the community, as well as the Kashrut laws.
During the rule of Idi Amin, the community isolated themselves for self protection as Amin had outlawed Jewish rituals and destroyed synagogues. In 2002, approximately 400 community members were formally converted to the conservative branch of Judaism. Today, most of the community lives around the Moses Synagogue on Nabugoye Hill outside Mbale town with Rabbi Gershom Sizomu as the spiritual leader and head of the community Yeshiva (he was ordained as a Conservative Rabbi in 2008 after graduating from the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, California).
Apart from the Moses Synagogue, community institutions include:
- The Hadassah Primary School
- The Semei Kakungulu High School
- Shalom supermarket