I was born with an intense interest in Judaism. Why? I have absolutely no idea, I just know that the interest has always been in me. If there is a god and he (though it pains me to write about “god” using gender specific words) created me I would think there would be some reason why this interest is within me. That being said I went to Passover Seder at Otterbein on Monday for the second year in a row. The Seder was very laid back and probably not too much like Seder with a Jewish family in which everyone is aware of the stories and traditions that go along with the celebration but it has none the less been a great experience.
One of the most important parts of the Passover Seder is the asking of the four questions:
1. On all other nights we eat both leavened and unleavened bread; why on this night do we eat only unleavened bread?
2. On all other nights we may eat all kinds of herbs; why on this night do we eat especially bitter herbs?
3. On all other nights we do not usually dip our food in anything at all; why on this night do we dip food twice?
4. On all other nights we eat either simply or in festivity; why on this night do we celebrate with such special festivity?
During dinner we talked about how not only are these questions important but through these questions we should consider the importance of developing other questions.
I thought about the question of the practice of Judaism in Uganda. I assumed if Judaism was practiced in the country that it would be an anomaly and wondered if I would be able to find any information. It is of course an anomaly but there is a smalled Jewish community called the Abdayudaya (which means Jews in Laganda) living at Nabugoy Hill in Eastern Uganda.
I read one article from NPR about the Abdayudaya’s celebration of Passover and another about the beginnings of the group and the view of the group in the eyes of the Israeli orthodoxy. The Abdayuday’s practice of Judaism is much more strict that that we many Jewish people through out the world, “in fact, they believe that every human act is scrutinized or rewarded through the eyes of God.” (Schultz and Meyer) Which myself and the author of “Reunited with our Ancient Faith…” find very interesting. Whether or not I believe in their religion, I respect their conviction (which is of course a topic for a different blog- the one I’d love to start on religion). Schultz and Meyer also note: “Perhaps the Abayuday community resembles the Judaism that was once observed…In fact, the Community’s approach to religion, which is firmly grounded in their awe of God, evokes images of the Ancient Israelites who lived by absolute faith in Yahweh.”
Passover, a holiday celebrating freedom always resonates with Jewish communities, most of which have at some point experienced oppression including the Abdayuday when Uganda was declared a Muslim nation in 1972. Though they can once again freely practice their religion the Adayudaya are very small in numbers and there are only three active synagogues in the country. Freedom is a concept I think many of us (as Americans) fail to think of on a daily basis because we consider ourselves free but on Passover we can remember to take a moment to remember the enslavement of Jews in Egypt and the freedom brought by God and to consider the feelings of enslavement and freedom felt by people through out the world. I would imagine that when the Adayudaya could not practice their religion freely they felt not only enslaved by their beliefs but isolated being a group so far removed from the majority of Jewish people.
Which brings up more questions:
How did the Adayudaya devote themselves to God when it was prohibited?
What did people do to get away from persecution?
How has the community grown since they once again felt freedom?
Who is still “enslaved” here, there or elsewhere on Earth? And how can we promote freedom?
Can we free ourselves by asking questions?
It is at least a start.
I am going to continue to formulate questions I have about Uganda as I continue to find out information in the roughly 8 weeks till we leave.
“May slavery give way to freedom. May hate give way to love. May ignorance give way to wisdom. May despair give way to hope. Next year, at this time, may everyone, everywhere, be free!” -chag semach!
Ladin, Joy. “Nourishing Hope — in Uganda and in the United States.” Tikkun 26.2 (2011): 23-25. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 20 Apr. 2011.
SCOTT, SIMON. “Celebrating Passover with Uganda’s Jews.” Weekend Edition Saturday (NPR) (n.d.): Newspaper Source. EBSCO. Web. 20 Apr. 2011.
Schultz, Kenneth, and Matthew Meyer. “Reunited with Our Ancient Faith: Practicing Judaism in Uganda.” Judaism 49.4 (2000): 470. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 20 Apr. 2011.