Religion plays a very large part in everyday life in Uganda. It is very common for people to ask what religion you are, even upon first encounter. “Are you a Christian or a Muslim?” can even be heard as an introductory phrase. When I tell people that my religion is not common in Uganda and that they may have never heard of it, they become intrigued.
When I respond that I am Jewish, I am often met with many various reactions: “Wow,” “I have never heard of that religion,” “the people of Israel,” “do you believe in God,” are some of the most common responses that I receive. All of the reactions I have gotten have been positive, with many people being curious and asking questions about Judaism. This prompted me to search online if there were any Jewish communities in Uganda, to which I discovered that an eight-hour bus ride from Gulu in the small city of Mbale lies a small Jewish community with a synagogue, Jewish primary and secondary school, and Mikva (bath used to achieve ritual purity).
After already visiting a couple of Jewish communities in Africa (Morocco and Tunisia), I was intrigued to make a visit to the Jewish community in Mbale. I reached out to one of the members I had found on Instagram, Yochanan, and arranged the visit.
Reflecting on the visit, I can say it was one of the most special religious encounters I have ever have. As someone who is a proud Jewish person and the grandson and great-grandson of Holocaust survivors, I always feel a sense of pride when I get to meet Jewish people from various communities around the world.
During the weekend, I enjoyed Friday night and Saturday Sabbath services, a Sabbath walk through the community visiting local members as well as the primary and secondary school, a Saturday night post-Sabbath party fit with music, food, and locally made beer, and a Sunday visit to the Mbale Zoo and falls. My weekend with the Jewish community in Mbale will always be a memory I cherish and anytime I am asked with what religion I am, I respond “I am Jewish, there is even a small community in Mbale!”
Posted By Kyle Aloof
Posted Jul 19th, 2022