Tommy Trenchard

Mbale, Uganda

A man sings during an evening prayer session in Nabugoye. The village, which sits atop a lush hill in the shadow of Mount Elgon has been the spiritual home of Uganda's Jewish minority for several generations.
The Abayudaya (meaning the 'people of Judah', in the local language) form a tiny and isolated Jewish community living in just a handful of villages in the hills of eastern Uganda. Unlike other isolated Jewish communities, the Abayudaya claim no ancestral link to Judaism. They are the legacy of a warrior chief named Semei Kakungulu who, in 1919, inspired by the five books of Moses in the old testament and feeling shunned by the British colonial administration, circumcised himself and his two sons and declared himself Jewish. In the years that followed Jewish travellers provided support and Hebrew texts to the fledgling community which adopted more and more facets of Jewish life and practice. Today, the Abayudaya number around 2000, some of them officially converted into conservative Judaism, others are content to just practice without official recognition. They eat kosher, learn Hebrew, pray at the prescribed times and strictly observe the Sabbath and other Jewish festivals.The community has good relations with both their Christian and Muslim neighbours, though they have faced persecution in the past, particularly during the rule of Idi Amin, who launched a crackdown against the group, forcing them to convert or flee.Since then, the community has rebounded. A large new synagogue is under construction in Nabugoye village, the spiritual home of the Abayudaya, complete with a Mikveh for future convertees. In February 2016 Uganda's Jews received a major boost when their leader, Gershom Sizomu, Uganda's first and only Rabbi, beat seven other candidates in his Muslim-dominated constituency to become the first Jew ever to win a seat in the country's parliament.

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Tommy Trenchard
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