The Jerusalem Post has published a report, unsurprising to anyone who has spent time with the Abayudaya community in Uganda, that Israel is sending a Jewish response to the famine wreaking havoc in northern Uganda.
As the article says, Uganda’s Jewish community “has mobilized like few others to fight the famine.” While Israel will still not officially recognize the Abayudaya as Jews, they are demonstrating the best of Jewish values.
For several years, the Jews of Uganda faced threats of violence, oppression, and isolation if they lived openly as Jews. In the last 30 years, they had to fight their neighbors and the government to regain their own tiny patch of land, but they have turned that struggle into prosperity–opening a clinic and a variety of community institutions, and turning their former enemies into allies, in an attempt to lift everyone up from poverty and mistrust.
I saw this life-saving spirit last year when I spent time with the Abayudaya, who are mostly subsistence farmers living in the hills outside of Mbale in eastern Uganda. They had started an interfaith, fair-trade, peace-centered coffee growers cooperative, called Mirembe Kawomera, which means “Delicious Peace” and that promotes sustainable farming and interfaith cooperation.
In recent years, they have been having amazing success. While I was there, I heard tales of other communities witnessing the rebirth of the Jewish community — which, like so much in Uganda had been underground during Idi Amin’s rule — and trying to learn more about Judaism and Jewish history. This interest comes from the simple fact that where the Jews of Uganda live, they try to bring prosperity for their neighbors.
I went into a classroom at Hadassah Primary School, a school run by the Jewish community for students of all faiths. When I tried to get a sense of the diversity of the classroom, the students all made a point of telling me, “we are all Ugandan.”