I recently received a message from Moses Sebagabo, the young lawyer and Jewish convert who appeared in my two-part dispatch from rural Uganda in the Spring of last year. At the time, Rabbi Gershom Sizomu—the leader of the Abayudaya, as the Jews of Uganda call themselves—was running for the parliamentary seat representing Bungokho North district. He lost, but the community carries on.
Sebagabo, who was born on the last day of Idi Amin’s government and had been petitioning Israel for entry permission since 1999, was eager to let me know that he was in Jerusalem, at Yeshiva through the end of December thanks to a Masorti grant, and that he had been featured in an article in Haaretz. He writes:
As the chazzan at Namanyonyi synagogue in Mbale, Uganda, my goal since 1999 [after conversion] has been to become a better Jew so as my deeds and behavior can match my love and enthusiasm. To this end, I decided to improve my Jewish education on my own back in Uganda. However,I felt hindered by my lack of understanding of Hebrew and important components of Jewish law. I have been leading services in three languages (Luganda, English, and Hebrew) in the Synagogue and I have been worried that even good translations are not a substitute for biblical and rabbinic Hebrew.
While at the Conservative Yeshiva, I am having a great chance to diminish these deficits but also to create a new beginning in this long-term pursuit. I hope to take Jewish knowledge, skills, wonderful memories, and many new friends to my Namanyonyi Synagogue back in Uganda after the Yeshiva. I also hope that others will help me introduce distant learning to Namanyonyi Synagogue so that I can best share my experience with my synagogue: i.e, the wonders of the Jewish search for understanding.
He added: “I am inviting all those who support Abayudaya programs, all their friends and families, to visit our humble houses in Namanyonyi Mbale, Uganda even if we lack running water, light, and electricity because a more enduring light comes from the Jewish struggle to meet the standards of our predecessors and leaders.”
For more on Sebagabo’s background and how he found himself without a coat in winter in Jerusalem, read “Election.”