A JEWISH WEDDING IN UGANDA
And how Shadrach Mugoya Levi found ALEPH
How does a young man’s dream in a village in Eastern Uganda lead to rabbinical studies, a village wedding celebration with 1,500 guests, securing food for 400 Abayudaya Jews during drought and famine, and forging a deep and loving connection between that young man, his village and the ALEPH world of Jewish Renewal?
The story begins about three years ago, when ALEPH’s world was widened as Rabbi Leila Gal Berner, Dean of Students of the ALEPH Ordination Program, noticed an email from Uganda. Curious of course, she responded as she always does when a letter of inquiry comes in from a potential student. The letter was from Shadrach Mugoya Levi, who was already serving as the spiritual leader of his 400-member Abayudaya Jewish community in Namutumba, a rural village of Uganda. He was eager to learn what a rabbi must know to lead with knowledge and effectiveness. Much correspondence followed, and many interviews. Impressed with Shadrach’s passion the AOP invited him to begin taking courses in the Rabbinical Program.
Welcoming Shadrach into the ALEPH world has planted seeds that continue to grow. A few months after he began his studies, Shadrach joined AOP faculty and students for the Ordination Program summer residential Intensive Study Retreat. After a year of videoconference classes, he met his classmates and teachers panim el panim for the first time. How exciting that was! Walking in to our magical, musical Erev Shabbat service after an eighteen-hour journey from Uganda must have seemed for Shadrach like entering a new universe. And then dinner! Food flowed, and nothing like the humble fare in Namutumba. But it wasn’t only new for Shadrach. As new relationships grew, his community has now enriched our ALEPH world immensely.
It had, of course, become entirely apparent that neither Shadrach nor his village had any funds for his studies or travel, and in fact were in dire need of even basic staples. Fundraising was essential. Initially Rabbi Leila raised scholarship funds for Shadrach’s rabbinic courses only. It soon became clear, however, that he and his community were inseparable, and that we urgently needed to find support for this very poor, but Jewishly faithful kahal. With this intention, a separate non-profit (501c3) organization, Ezra Uganda Assistance, was born https://www.ezrauganda.org/ OR ezrauganda.org
Ezra Uganda Assistance has supported the Namutumba community through a dire drought and famine that sadly took the lives of some members. The fund has also provided curative and preventive medication for sick children, particularly prone to repeated bouts of malaria. Solar energy has been installed in the Tikkun Olam school. Wells have been cleaned, repaired and fenced against animal intrusion. The Namutumba community is rebuilding its synagogue and solar energy will be installed.
Ezra Uganda Assistance is currently raising funds for a new project, “Operation Joseph” — purchasing plows and oxen to enable larger-scale farming so that food can be stored for times of future famine.
All in all, things are moving in Namutumba. All this grew from the seeds of a passionate and bold young man’s desire to be a rabbi, and ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal’s faith in him!
With this NY Times article, linked here, we have some wonderful breaking news to report. A wedding!
Shadrach and his common-law wife Naomi expressed a desire for a formal religious Jewish wedding under a chuppah, and five other couples in Namutumba joined the request. Many people, who had come to know the story of our fellow Jews there, came forward to support tis special simcha. On August 8, 2017, ALEPH musmechet Rabbi Yafa Chase, along with the Chief Rabbi of the Abayudaya in Uganda, Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, who is also a member of the Ugandan Parliament, co-officiated for the six couples with 1,500 guests celebrating! Over two days – drums of jubilation pounded out the heart-beat joy of the couples, with kosher and halal food nourishing the people, as the wedding party included Christian and Muslim neighbors as well as fellow Jews from other villages.
Accompanying Rabbi Yafa Chase and her daughter Ariel to Uganda was Merissa Nathan Gerson who wrote the beautiful article that was published in the New York Times.
Here is the link for you. May it lift your heart and fill your soul with joy! https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/09/22/fashion/jewish-weddings-in-uganda.html