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Over 250 people from Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria converted to Judaism this month supervised by Rabbi Gershom Sizomu and his Conservative colleagues from the United States who were in Uganda for the installation of Rabbi Sizomu who was recently ordained at American Jewish University through a fellowship from Be'chol Lashon. (Photo: Yahel Herzog / Be'chol Lashon)

Living Judaism

250 Africans Convert To Judaism.
Many more expected to follow.

-- Diane Tobin

Over 250 people from Uganda, Kenya, and South Africa, Ghana, and Nigeria formally converted to Judaism in a ceremony held last week in the village of Nabogoye near Mbale, Uganda. They join a community of 800 Abayudaya Jews led by Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, who was recently ordained at American Jewish University, a seminary of Conservative Judaism in Los Angeles, California, through a fellowship from Be'chol Lashon.

The ceremony was conducted according to Jewish law. Rabbi Sizomu convened and participated in a religious court (beit din) of Conservative rabbis from the United States that supervised the ritual immersion (mikvah). The converts included men, women and children ranging in age from four to eighty years old, and are mostly rural farmers, but also included small business owners and professionals.

African family meets with the rabbis who will convert them to Judaism, including Rabbis Brad Artson, Gershom Sizomu, and David Kalende. (Photo: Yahel Herzog / Be'chol Lashon)

“The relationship between God and the Jews in the Torah resonates for many spiritual seekers,” said Rabbi Sizomu. “It is important the Africans and others know that they can choose Judaism as a spiritual path -- and that we are open to them.”

Rabbi Gershom Sizomu is the first black rabbi from sub-Saharan Africa to be ordained by an American rabbinic school. He returned home just a few weeks ago to Uganda to lead the local Jewish community, known as the Abayudaya (“people of Judah”). He is opening a school to train rabbis who will serve growing Jewish communities throughout Africa.

Rabbi Gershom Sizomu leads the men and boys to the Mikvah to complete their conversion to Judaism in the Abayudaya village of Nabogoye Uganda. (Photo: Yahel Herzog / Be'chol Lashon)

“Gershom is a visionary and charismatic leader. It has been an honor to support him over the past five years and we plan to stay involved in building the Jewish community of Uganda and others in Africa as well,” says Diane Tobin, Be’chol Lashon Director.

The mission of Be’chol Lashon is to help global Jewish communities grow, and to facilitate active participation in Jewish life, working to dispel the myth that Judaism is closed to outsiders -- a myth that Jews themselves sometimes promote.

As one convert told Rabbi Sizomu, “My search for God and a community where I felt at home brought me to Judaism. I am humbled and awed to take my place among the Jewish people.”

Some of the boys among the 250 Africans who converted to Judaism in Uganda this month with Rabbi Gershom Sizomu. (Photo: Yahel Herzog / Be'chol Lashon)

Be’chol Lashon (In Every Tongue), an initiative of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research, grows and strengthens the Jewish people through ethnic, cultural, and racial inclusiveness. They advocate for the diversity that has characterized the Jewish people throughout history, and through contemporary forces including intermarriage, conversion and adoption. 

Contact: Diane Tobin or Jenna Ferer Institute for Jewish & Community Research V. 415 386 2604 press@jewishresearch.org CONTACT: Diane Tobin or Jenna Ferer, Institute for Jewish & Community Research, +1-415-386-2604, press@jewishresearch.org

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