Judaism came to Uganda in 1919 on an unusual historical path.

At that time the country was under the British protectorate which secured its power by placing popular local chiefs in power. One of those chiefs was named Semei Kakungulu. His belief system arose in the context of Christian movements with an African bent that opposed the attitude of white superiority in the church. Noticing discrepancies between the words in the Bible and the practice established by the missionaries, Kakungulu began to adhere to a literal reading of the Old Testament. Eventually, Kakungulu became acquainted with Jewish traders in Uganda who taught him about Judaism. Kakungulu renounced his beliefs in the New Testament and Jesus Christ and adopted Jewish traditions, including circumcision. He founded the “Abayudaya,” which is the Luganda word for “people of Judah.” A charismatic and beloved leader, many others followed his lead. By the time of his death in 1928, there were about 2,000 Abuyadaya in Uganda. Kakugulu’s successor was named Kaweke, and his successor was Samson Mugombe, who was MY GRANDFATHER!

Judaism was outlawed during the oppressive and cruel regime of Idi Amin. Many Abayudaya members converted to Islam or Christianity at that time, while others hid their religious practice. After the overthrow in 1979 of the self-proclaimed “field martial” Idi Amin, freedom of religion was valued again. In March of 2002, before the holiday of Passover, about 300 Abayudaya were officially converted to Judaism by a Conservative movement delegation. Today there are around 1,000 Jews in Uganda living in five separate communities.

We welcome visitors to join us on a Shabbat or holiday service anytime! We begin our prayers with psalms that we sing in the Luganda language to an African beat. You will recognize some of the Hebrew melodies in the heart of the service, which are sung in many congregations around the world. Following services, we often have discussion groups about questions that were raised during the reading of the Torah that day. We would welcome your input!

When you contact me for your tour to Uganda, we can plan your visit so that you will be able to experience a Shabbat or holiday with my Abayudaya Jewish community. I would love you to be my – our – guest!

The Abayudaya

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