New Years Greeting

Dear Supporters of KKSY-Uganda,

What a year it has been…!

To our immense joy, PVAO are happy to report that our KKSY Sephardi Community has continued to increase in strength, moving further towards self-sustainability and a flourishing Jewish life.

Of course, there is still a very long road ahead with the unavoidable ups and downs, but we have so much to be grateful for.

In the last year, with the help of PVAO supporters (special thanks to Joel!), KKSY-Uganda was able to build a synagogue on their new land. A temporary one to be sure, but workable -if need be- for at least the next decade.

PVAO have plans in the fullness of time, over several years, to build a permanent synagogue complex which would include classrooms, an office, a library and a guesthouse. Right now, these are merely dreams, but with your help and donations they can become a reality.

Families have been able to increase their livelihood through the agricultural project led by Jewish Response Uganda to which we are so much indebted. As Chairman of PVAO, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Jewish Response Uganda for their outstanding support. The programs put into place by them have been an outstanding contribution to the lives of our KKSY members.

I would also like to say ‘thank you so much’ to my fellow PVAO board members, Ros, Fred, Joel, Hindy, Dahlyt and Moshe, who put so much time and work into this and without whom PVAO might not exist.

And last but not least, a big thank-you to all our donors including those who have helped fund our educational and medical branches, notably Jacob, Fred, Ralph, Mort ‘n Viv, Nancy, Judith, Hindy and all those amazing people who wish to remain anonymous.

Finally, dear friends, we kindly invite you to make a meaningful New Year donation towards our projects (incl. education, building and medical).
Important holidays like Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur are especially appropriate moments to remember our brothers and sisters that are near to our hearts. You can make your highly appreciated donations online via our website or you can send a check made out to PVAO, addressed to myself.

I wish you all a wonderful, happy and peaceful, New Year.
Thank you again for your support, always much needed and appreciated.

ותזכו לשנים רבות נעימות וטובות, ולמעשים טובים










Rabbi Sjimon den Hollander

PVAO Chairman





21 East 22nd Street 12G
New York, NY 10010


PVAO Came To The Rescue!

The KKSY community were devastated when just before Shavout, their simple little synagogue collapsed following extremely strong winds and heavy rain. PVAO came to the rescue!
Within a matter of days, funds were raised and people were brainstorming what to do.
Rabbi Sjimon den Hollander, the PVAO Chairman, together with Joel Beattie one of the PVAO members, came up with a solution.
 They drew up plans and asked local builders to suggest ways of rebuilding a structure would would stand for a least the next five years. One important change would be that the new building would be supported this time, by metal poles instead of wooden ones, which the termites eat their way thru.
Funds were raised from PVAO members themselves, as well as from within KKSY community. Others who heard thru social media of the need to rebuild a place to pray, as soon as possible, and were generous and happy to donate towards.
Currently, the new secure structure, which took about three weeks to build, is almost finished….well in time for Rosh Hashanah.
All we need now is a solar panel, any offers greatly accepted! and to find some additional funding to buy suitable chairs. The building will also double up as a library, a meeting place and a classroom.
Over the next few years, PVAO have plans to build a permanent Sephardi synagogue close to where the KKSY members live. Plans are now being drawn up and costings worked out.


 Check out the video of the construction of the new temporary Synagogue:

A Hebrew Class at KKSY

During her recent very hectic week visiting the KKSY Community, Ekaterina Mitiaev from World Jewish Relief, took time off  in order to give some of KKSY members in class in Hebrew. Since Ekaterina spent considerable time living in Israel, she was ideally suited to hold this impromptu class, in which she taught students the basics of how to greet one another in Hebrew and how to respond in Hebrew. The students were very eager to learn and each played a part in being both the ‘greeter’ then the ‘responder’. KKSY regularly receive visitors from Israel, so Ekaterina thought how nice it would be if at least some the KKSY members, knew how to converse in basic Hebrew with them, even only in a limited way. KKSY  is now eagerly awaiting for their next visitors from Israel to arrive, so they can put into practice what they learnt.


          Shavuot, the ‘Festival of Weeks,’ marks the end of a seven-week period that connects the Exodus from Egypt (Pesaḥ) with the giving of the Torah. The holiday is observed fifty days after the first day of Passover and it has five different names, each connected to a different aspect of the holiday’s meaning:

1) Firstly, Ḥagh ha-Shabhu`oth  חַג הַשָּׁבוּעוֹת is the name for the holiday that is most commonly used. It means the (Pilgrim) Festival of Weeks. (In the Torah, the word Ḥagh/Chag (חג) is only used for the three pilgrim festivals.)

2) The name Ḥagh ha-Qaṣîr, חַג הַקָּצִיר (Pilgrim) Harvest Festival, refers to the celebration of the summer’s wheat harvest.

3) Yom ha-Bikkurîm  יוֹם הַבִּכּוּרִים(Day of the Firstlings) refers to the first fruits that were brought and offered in the Temple.

4) In the Talmud, Shavuot is called Aṣṣèreth עֲצֶּרֶת. The word Aṣṣèreth can mean a few things. In Biblical Hebrew it means Festive Assembly. It can also mean “Finalizing”. As Pesach and Shavuot are connected through the counting of the `Omer, in a way, Shavuot is the finalization of Pesach. It is also a Finalization because Pesach was the beginning of the grain harvest, while Shavu’oth marks the end of this season. Therefore Shavout was the time when farmers brought their tithings from these harvests.

5) In the liturgy, Shavuot is called Zemàn Mattàn Torathénu  זְמַן מַתַּן תּוֹרָתֵנוּ (The Time of the Giving of Our Torah), indicating that we are celebrating the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai which happened around this time as well.

During the times of the Temple, Shavuot was one of the three holidays for which Jews were required to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem with offerings of livestock and produce.


In the synagogue service, we commemorate the giving of the Torah by reading the Ten Commandments.


On Shavuot, there is a beautiful tradition to decorate our synagogues with flowers, in part as a celebration of the harvest season.


Also, special piyyutim (medieval poems) are read. Most remarkably as a long poem called Azharot, written by Shelomo ibn Gabirol. It has all the 613 commandments of the Torah in rhyme. The custom of the K.K. Sefardi congregations in New York, Amsterdam, London, Philadelphia, and others is for the men to read this in the afternoon before Minḥa, where everyone takes turns and read a few lines before the next person takes over. On the afternoon on the first day of Shavuot, the first half is read with the negative commandments (the prohibitions, “what we may not do”), and on the second day, the positive commandments are read (“what we must do”).
Click here to listen to the Azharot melody:


Then, there is the reading of Meghillàth Rūth, the Book of Ruth. In many congregations, this is also read in the afternoon, after the Azharot. The custom in K.K. Shearith Israel in New York is that pre-Bat Mitzwa girls read the Book of Ruth after morning service.

One reason given for reading the Book of Ruth is that Ruth declared: “Where you go, I will go, where you sleep, I will sleep, your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” Ruth chose to follow her mother-in-law Naomi and to remain with the Jewish people. As such, she can be compared to the Israelites who accepted the Torah. Also, Ruth’s story takes place during the wheat harvest, and her story is therefore appropriate for the Harvest Festival (Ḥagh ha-Qaṣîr).

The Book of Ruth is read with a very special tune.
Here is a recording of the first chapter of Ruth:
For the other chapters, see here:

Most people have also heard of the Ashkenazi custom to eat dairy foods. This custom started in the late Middle Ages with the eating of dairy pancakes (‘pladen’) and it was most likely taken over from an Eastern Christian holiday called Meslenitsa. Later, different explanations were found to give Jewish meaning to the custom. One interpretation for this tradition became that it symbolizes the ‘rebirth’ that the Israelites underwent by receiving the Torah and that the Torah is like nourishing milk.


Then there is the Qabbalistic practice of Tikkun Lél Shavuot, a night-long study of Torah that ends with prayer at sunrise. This practice began in the 1500s in the city of Safed.

Shavuot is a short holiday but full of traditions. Ultimately, the holiday is a celebration of the Torah as the source of light for the Jewish people and the guidebook that guides us throughout the years. The Jews of today echo their spiritual ancestors when they said to God “Na`asèh we-Nishma`,”: “We will do, and we will listen!”


Finally, how is the name of the festival correctly pronounced?
In Modern Hebrew the pronunciation is: Sha-vu-ot.
However, most old Sephardi communities have the tradition to pronounce the v as b, so then it becomes: Shabu’ot (if this is historically correct is a matter of discussion, and we will talk about this another time). I often spell it as bh to avoid discussions: as Shabhu’ot. Those who want to say b, see b, and they can say b, and others can pronounce bh as v (like ph is often pronounced as f).
Sephardim who are very precise pronounce the letter ת without a dot as th… That makes it Shabu`oth (like the th in Ruth, and Shabbāth).

Most importantly, according to the rules of Biblical grammar and the laws of the Talmud, the letter between the u and the o (the letter `ayin) must be clearly pronounced. The Talmud even teaches that someone who cannot pronounce the letter alef (א) different from the `ayin (ע) may not read the Torah for the congregation or lead the prayers. That is because confusing the letters can give a whole different meaning! Most certainly, the original pronunciation of the `ayin (ע) is the same as the Arabic letter `ayn (ع), a sound that is made deep down in the throat. On the internet, that sound is often written as a 3 (so then the name of the holiday can be written as: Shabhu3oth or Shabu3ot). But that throat-sound is very hard to make for many people who do not have it in their language. What to do?
In Europe, there was a wide-spread custom to pronounce the `ayin (ע) as ng (like in the word ‘singing’). Unfortunately, it has mostly disappeared, but it is still practiced by some Sephardi communities in Europe and North America. For instance, you can hear it in the link of the Ruth recording in this article. When I visited KKSY for the first time in 2004, people told me that the Arabic sound was too hard to make, so the community decided to adopt the custom of pronouncing the `ayin (ע) as ng. Under Ashkenazi influence, because people studying in Israel in Ashkenazi yeshibhoth, it was sadly abandoned , but even years later, I have seen footage and heard recordings from KKSY people singing and praying, using this pronunciation (le-Ngolam waNged, Shir haMangalot, counting the Ngomer, etc.), and it made me very happy. So, based on this KKSY tradition, the name of the holiday is to be pronounced as: Shabungot.


Have a wonderful holiday,
חג שבועות שמח!


Rabbi Sjimon den Hollander,
With the help of my friend H.D.

Yet another great season, (we hope)!

The photos show big green pepper plants doing well and being looked after by KKSY members, under the ever watchful eye of Ekaterina Mitiaev, who heads the Jewish Relief Uganda (JRU) ngo. project set up to teach agricultural farming to the willing community.
Other crops currently being grown are, water-melons and onions.
Ekaterina will be seeing the  progress of the planting for herself when she arrives there in early June.
PVAO are proud to partner World Jewish Relief in this wonderful ongoing project.


Raid on Entebbe Remembered

Shown in the photo is the brother of Dr Jonathan Natanyahu who was killed in the hijacking of an aeroplane forced to land in Entebbe airport Uganda,  on June 27 1976. (see film Raid on Entebbe).
Dr Idor Natanyahu, brother on Benjamin Natanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, is standing with Erisha Ziraba, the Spiritual Leader of the  KKSY Putti Commuity.
Erisha is also highly involved in the NGO Jewish Relief Uganda, the agricultural side of their community.
A team from Israel working with Marom Jewish Center in Kampala, Uganda, visited the KKSY JRU offfices recently.
They were really impressed with their findings. Follow on from their visit, they invited Erisha and other young representatives of KKSY Community as well Abayudaya members from different neighbouring Jewish Communities, to the official opening in Kampala of the new Marom building.  The mayor of Division Makindye in Kampala and other government officials were in attendance.
Erisha said, “The KKSY community is becoming unique and many people are getting interested their leadership and the way things are conducted in KKSY”.

Ugandan Jews Celebrating the 71st anniversary of the State of Israel

Last week, the Prime Minister of Uganda, Ruhakana Rugunda, hosted a wonderful event in the capital city of Kampala, in order to celebrate the 71st anniversary of the State of Israel.

Two founder members of the KKSY-Putti Jewish Community were invited to attend.
Tarphon Kamya together with Erisha Ziraba, the KKSY Spiritual Leader, travelled the 8 hour road journey to Kampala so they could attend the party.

Tarphon said “I am was honoured and delighted to have been invited and to know that finally the KKSY community are being accepted as the orthodox voice of Judaism in Uganda.
it’s taken a while for us to get here but we’ve made it, we have been acknowledged“.

Tarphon and Erisha were proud to hold up the Israeli flag and wear their kippot (head covering) in public, they felt safe and protected by the general Ugandan population.

Other Abayudaya (Jews of Uganda), headed by Rabbi Gershom who represents Liberal Judaism, were also invited to participate in the happy celebrations.

All the Jews who stayed for dinner, were given kosher food, brought in from Israel.

It seems that Uganda has made it government policy to accept the State of Israel and to include the Jews of Uganda in their future plans.

Tarphon and Erisha will never forget the wonderful hospitality offered to them and look forward to many more official celebrations to come.

Q & A on Pesach

How can we, in Uganda, celebrate Pesach if we cannot buy Matzot or Kosher Wine?

(The first part of my answer is an edited version of a 2013 article by my friend Shayna Zamkanei in The Times of Israel)


Passover begins in a few weeks, and many Jews are purchasing square “matzos” sold in cardboard boxes. But why?

In an 2004 article on called “The Inner Meaning of Matzah”, rabbi Pinchas Stolper wrote: “We bake flat, crisp matzah in order to reenact the Exodus, when the Children of Israel fled Egypt in a hurry.” However, the truth is, when fleeing Egypt, the Children of Israel did not eat “flat, crisp matzah”. In fact, this flat Pesach-“bread” was were not eaten until the 19th century.

What the Israelites ate was massá (a more historically accurate transliteration than “matzah”), and that massá looked very similar to a soft pita.

We know this to be true for several reasons, the first of which is the “korékh” component of the haggadá (usually called the Seder by Ashkenazim). “Korékh” means to roll up or to wrap around, and that is what we are supposed to do when remembering Hillel and making the “Hillel sandwich.” Since we cannot roll massá that is hard and crisp, this proves that massá used to be soft and pliable.

Second, it is clear from the Babylonian Talmud (Pesachim 7a) that bread and massá looked the same and could be easily confused: “Rabbah the son of Ribbi Huna said in the name of Rab: If a moldy loaf [is found during Pesah in a bread bin and we are uncertain whether it is bread or massá], if the majority of loaves [in the bin] are massá it is permitted [because we assume it to be like the majority].”
Besides this source clearly showing that one could not see the difference between massá and bread, the massá currently sold in most stores also never grows mold, no matter what we do to it. Soft massá, on the other hand, easily does.

We find more proof in later sources as well. And while eating soft massá is nowadays often seen as a specifically Sephardi custom, even Ashkenazi sources refer to massá as soft and much thicker than crackers…

For example, the Rama (Rabbi Moshe Isserlis) wrote that massá should be made thinner than a tefach (around 3 inches). A tefach thick was recommended in the Babylonian Talmud…
Also, the (Ashkenazi) Chafetz Chaim advised that massá be made “soft as a sponge” (Mishna Berura, Orach Haim 486).
In “The Laws of Baking massá,” the Shulchan Aruch deems baking to be sufficient  when “no threads can be pulled from it.”
Rabbi Hershel Schachter, rabbinic dean at Yeshiva University and halakhic advisor for the kashruth division of the Orthodox Union, stated clearly that there is nothing that prohibits anyone (even Ashkenazi Jews) from eating soft massá.


Today’s incarnated form of massá started with the industrial production beginning in the 1800s. Eating massá that resembles a cracker needlessly changes the Passover experience into an artificial one without any roots in Jewish sources but rather dictated by the needs of a commercial industry (easy mass production and unlimited shelf life). In any area with a Jewish community, there is no excuse for not producing soft massot, as the Israelites did.


Anybody who teaches that our ancestors ate crispy massot while leaving Egypt, is perverting history and reading a new custom into the Torah.


In conclusion, baking your own massot is on a much higher level to than to get them in boxes from Israel.

In order for you to seewith your own eyes how these massot can be baked, I posted three different videos.

1)      Here is a video of a Rabbi and his family making massot at home:

2)      Here are (Syrian) Sephardi Jews who bake softer, thicker massot:

3)      In my opinion, the most delicious ones are the Yemenite style massot.
These massot seem to be the closest to the ones that were eaten in the times of the Torah and the Talmud.
In this video, you can see that they also use some oil, and egg, and some herbs, which is all optional. They come out soft and the “Hillel Sandwich” (korékh) is actually a bread roll, like it originally was.
Here is the video showing how these are made and what they look like:


Massot with egg is – according to custom – however not used for the haggadá ceremony, but can be freely made and eaten during the other meals of Pesach.

It is important to keep in mind, that when baking massot, according to halakha, we have a maximum of 18 minutes. Ashkenazim start to count the 18 minutes when the moment the water is mixed with the flour. But Sephardim (and that is the original halakha) only start counting after the kneading is stopped. And one can knead the dough as long as wanted. It is therefore smart to keep kneading until right before it is flattened and baked.

As far as the Haggadá is concerned, the Shearith Israel holiday prayer books have the Haggadah printed, starting on page 61!

If you have no kashér (kosher) wine, you should use regular grape juice from the store. It is true that grape juice is halakhically considered wine and falls under the same rules and restrictions, but one of these rules is that wine which has been cooked (boiled for even a second), is kashér. It so happens that commercially produced grape juice is always pasteurized (which is, halakhically speaking, cooked) and therefore kashér and can be used for Pesach.


Rabbi Sjimon den Hollander




Here are some QUESTIONS and ANSWERS ABOUT PURIM, as written by rabbi Sjimon den Hollander PVAO Chairman










PURIM March 20-21 2019 CELEBRATION



What are the most important things to observe on Purim?


There are four obligations to fulfill on Purim:
1) Listening to the Meghilla
2) A Sengudat Mitzwa (A festive meal)
3) Mishloach Manot (Sending food)
4) Mattanot la-Evyonim (Gifts for the Poor)



What is the Meghilla?


The Meghilla is the Book of Ester. Meghilla literally means scroll. The Meghilla is read from a scroll.



When should we listen to the Meghilla?


Two times: Both in the evening of Purim (Purim Eve), and also during the day of Purim.



I have learned that women are exempt from certain commandments. What about listening to the Meghilla?


When it comes to listening to the Meghilla, women are also obligated.



Do we fulfill this obligation if the Book of Ester is read from a regular book?


Unfortunately, that does not fulfill the commandment.  However, if there is nobody with an Ester-scroll, then it is the best you can do.



If the obligation is to listen to the Meghilla which is read from a scroll, can we listen to a recording of someone who read it from a scroll?


Most rabbis believe that listening to a recording is not valid, but there is an opinion that it is enough to fulfill the mitzwa. Once again, if there is no real Meghilla, it is advisable to listen to a recording.
Here is a link to a recording, written from a scroll. The style is of the Sephardi Jews from Iraq:


This is another link, much more attractive in my opinion, in the real style of Kahal Kadosh Shearith Israel, recorded in New York, but unfortunately not recorded from a scroll.
Excellent for those who want to study the tune for next year!!!!



If it is a requirement to listen to the Meghilla, then how can there be a custom to make noise during the reading of Haman? Doesn’t it prevent you from hearing every word?


This is very true. The noise making during the reading of the name Haman, is a very late custom which started within some Ashkenazi communities. Most rabbis were actually against it. Unfortunately, the custom spread throughout most Jewish communities. But even today, there are still Sephardi synagogues that do not allow it. This is the only right we: to read the Meghilla with dignity, so we can hear every word.
However, there is no problem, when we tell the story to children in their own language, if they make noise during the naming of Haman.



The story of Ester is such an important story. Why is it not part of the Torah?


The story of Ester took place many centuries after the life of Moses.



What is the Sengudat Mitzwa?


The word Sengudaa (סעודה), often written as Seudah or Se’udah, means a meal.
A Sengudat Mitzwa is a prescribed, festive meal.


When should we have this festive meal?


The meal should be had on the day of Purim itself. Of course, it is nice to have a meal in the evening as well, but the Sengudat Mitzwa can only be fulfilled during the daytime.



Should we have this meal with a lot of people, or can it just be with our own family?


It can be just with your own family, but it is nice to invite people. In some communities, the people cook together and have a meal with the entire community. However, you can even have it alone (although, that is not as festive of course).


Question: Isn’t there also an obligation to drink until you don’t know the difference between Mordechai and Haman? Does that also apply for young children?


I believe the idea that one has to get drunk on Purim is based on a misunderstanding. It seems that in the time of the Talmud, there were some who got drunk on Purim. While they were drunk, they would do bad things. The majority then limited the drinking by saying: Only drink until you do not know the difference between “Blessed is Mordechai” and “Cursed is Haman”. (Not: between Mordechai and Haman!!!). Blessed is Mordechai in fact means: “May the good side win!”, and Curses is Haman means: “May the bad side lose!” In fact, there is no difference between the two; if the good side wins, the bad side loses. So after you take your first sip, if you ask yourself what the difference is between the two, you will realize that you don’t know, and you need to stop right away.
Maimonides (the Rambam) is very clear that getting drunk is equal to idol worship, at all occasions, also on Purim. Because God stands for reason, and when you are dunk, you erase your reason. Furthermore, being drunk is damaging to the body, and especially to the brain, and we are not allowed to cause ourselves damage.


Some others say that, a person should drink just a little more than usual, and then take a nap, because , when you sleep, you certainly do not know the difference between Blessed is Mordechai and cursed is Haman.



What is Mishloach Manot?


Mishloach Manot is the mitzwa to give food.



To how many people should we give food?


We should give food to at least one person, but we can give to as many as we like.



What kind of food should we give?


It should be at least two different types of food. Also, the food should be prepared.
So packets of tea, or a pack of rice which still must be boiled, is not a valid way to fulfill this mitzwa.



When should the food be given?


The food should be given on the day of Purim itself.



Do poor people also need to give food to other poor people?


Poor people also are required to fulfill the mitzwa. Hopefully, if two poor people exchange their food, they both have fulfilled the requirement.



Can we give Mishloach Manot and Mattanot la-Evyonim to non-Jewish people?


The mitzwa is only fulfilled by giving these to Jews. That makes sense, because these gifts are given to them to help them celebrate Purim with happiness and joy, and non-Jews generally do not celebrate Purim. However, it is still a good idea, after we give the required gifts to Jews, and in addition to share the joy and also give something to non-Jews.



What is Mattanot La-Evyonim?


Mattanot La-Evyonim is the mitzwa to give money to poor people on the day of Purim.



To how many people should we give money?


At least to two individuals.



How much money should we give to each person?


The amount we give should at least be enough for the person the buy a meal.



When should the money be given?


The money should be given on the day of Purim itself.
Sometimes a person is assigned to collect Mattanot la-Evyonim from a number of people and then to distribute it among the poor. Such a person can collect the monies before Purim, but he must make sure to hand it to the poor during Purim.



Can we give it to these poor individuals together as a family, or should every member of my family fulfill this mitzwah?


It should be done by each member of the family separately. Even though pre-bar/bat mitzwa children are technically not obligated, it is a very good way of teaching them to be charitable when they hand over money to a poor person.



Do poor people also need to give money to other poor people?


Poor people also are required to fulfill the mitzwa. Hopefully, they will also receive from others as well. Several people can exchange money back-and-forth. It is important for even poor people to understand that they should not only expect to receive but also to support and contribute to others.



What is the proper greeting for Purim?


Many people mistakenly say “Chag Sameach”, especially in Israel. However, in the Torah, the word Chag is only used for the Pilgrim Festivals: Pesach, Shabungot and Sukkot.
A better greeting is Purim Sameach!  An old Sephardi greeting is: Purim Alegre!


Purim Alegre to you all!
Rabbi Sjimon den Hollande

Featured in the TIMES (U.K) newspaper on Saturday Feb 9 2019


Saturday February 9 2019 | | No 72766

Ros Eisen, London based secretary of PVAO was recently interviewed and we are delighted to inform you that a huge article was written about KKSY/World Jewish Relief which appeared on p 81 of The Times UK newspaper.

The group, founded 100 years ago, have been supported by Jewish charities to grow produce such as peppers and onions

When Ros Eisen embarked on a gorilla trek in Uganda ten years ago, she had no idea that her trip to Africa would have such a lasting impact.

She had reserached Uganda before she left, and had been intrigued to read about a Jewish group living there. A member of a mainstream Orthodox synagogue in London, she was curious about Jews who lived in faraway places. Yet the businesswoman from Belsize Park in north London had been unaware of the existence of the Abayudaya, as Uganda’s Jews are called.

While Ethiopian Jews, now mostly settled in Israel, were long established — descendants of the Queen of Sheba according to their lore — the Abayudaya are a new community.

They were founded 100 years ago by Semei Kakungulu, a chieftain who converted to Christianity in the 1880s and helped the British to gain control over eastern Uganda. However, disenchanted with the British, he began to set out on his own spiritual path, circumcising himself in his fifties and adopting a lifestyle based on the Old Testament.

The Abayudaya survived the tyranny of Idi Amin, who suppressed their synagogues in the 1970s. Now they number an estimated 1,500 to 2,000.

Eisen headed for Putti, a village in the east of the country where a few hundred Jews have lived peaceably alongside Christian and Muslim neighbours.

She was “horrified” to find the villagers had no running water or electricity. “I noticed a lot of the children had distended stomachs and didn’t have shoes,” she says. “I asked somebody what the major cause of death was in the community; and they said malaria.”

They could not afford mezuzot (the receptacles containing passages from the Torah that Jews are commanded in Deuteronomy to affix to their doorposts) for their ramshackle homes. “They would scratch out Magen Davids [Stars of David] and menorahs [the Temple lamps] with a chalk or a stone on a piece of wood and they would also write, ‘Shalom’. It was very moving.”

Eisen ordered mosquito nets through a local doctor and bought shoes and eggs for the children.

Back in the UK, she co-founded a charity, the Putti Village Assistance Organisation (PVAO), to provide practical and religious support.

Over the years, the Putti Jews have acquired prayer shawls and Hebrew prayer books. “They lit Shabbat candles, they would have a Friday night service, they wouldn’t work on Saturday,” Eisen says. “They abstained on fast days and observed the Jewish holidays. The male children were circumcised and the boys were bar mitzvah’d in a very simple way.”

When she met them, they couldn’t eat chicken because they didn’t have the implements for kosher slaughter. So her charity arranged for a rabbinically approved knife and grinding stone to be sent from Israel.

Although the Abayudaya practised Judaism to the best of their knowledge, it took some time before they were recognised elsewhere. Most were formally converted in the early 2000s through the Masorti (Conservative) Jewish stream; Masorti conversions, however, are not considered valid by Israel’s Orthodox Chief Rabbinate.

In time, the PVAO focused on a group of Putti Jews who wanted to affiliate with Orthodoxy. Rabbis travelled to conduct conversions, but one of the requirements is immersion in a mikveh, a ritual bath.

“So they had to have a mikveh,” Eisen says. “My charity put up the money to buy the land and we had plans drawn up in Israel.”

The Putti Jews call themselves the Kahal Kadosh She’erit Yisrael (KKSY), “Holy Congregation of the Remnant of Israel”, following the Sephardic rites. A group from KKSY have studied at a yeshiva in Israel. PVAO’s chairman, Rabbi Sjimon den Hollander, conducts weekly religion classes for the community in Uganda via Skype or WhatsApp.

“They are hungry for more knowledge,” Eisen says. “Some of them want to become rabbis.”

PVAO is also helping the community to become self-sufficient. With the British Jewish charity, World Jewish Relief, it has funded agricultural training for the KKSY, enabling them to grow produce such as watermelons, peppers and onions. It plans to develop vocational training, in dressmaking or carpentry for example, during the year.

Like other Abayudaya, the KKSY will be celebrating its centenary this year. Jews from nearby Buseta will join them for the festivities. “They are also going to buy orange and mango trees and plant them in each corner of their land,” Eisen says.

For Mama Ros, as KKSY have affectionately dubbed Eisen, “the old lady from England with the raven voice”, helping this community will be “a lifetime’s work”.

The Abayudaya may not be alone. Other more recent Jewish outposts have sprung up in Africa, in Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. More than a hundred people in Madagascar converted to Judaism three years ago. A new chapter of the diaspora may be only just beginning.

-Article written by Simon Rocker, for the TIMES (U.K) newspaper Feb 2019