The Abayudaya community, comprised of about 1,000 members, is spread among six villages in the area surrounding Mbale, in eastern Uganda, approximately five hours from the capital of Kampala. From my work in Masorti Olami, I knew of volunteers that had worked with the Abayudaya for various periods of time and had read many fascinating stories about their experiences. But nothing really prepared me for the warm welcome I received from the children, teenagers, young adults, adults and elders with whom I had the privilege of meeting during my stay. I quicklyfelt at home with my new neighbors and friends. "Home" during my visit was the Abayudaya Guest House on Nabugoye Hill, a relatively new building with eight bedrooms, a dining room, office, kitchen and with the luxuries of mosquito netting, electricity and running water. Most of my meals were eaten at the Guest House with other guests, volunteers and staff.
The Abayudaya live their daily lives committed to traditional Judaism, observing ritual slaughter and kashrut, celebrating Shabbat and holidays, reading Torah on Mondays and Thursdays and engaging in text study on a regular basis. Although religious observance has not been easy in the face of political developments over the years in Uganda, a strong leadership has persevered and the results can be seen and felt today.
Two schools, the Hadassah Primary School and the Semei Kakungulu High School (known as S.K.) were established by the community so that the youth can learn Hebrew and Judaism in addition to the regular Uganda government curriculum. It also enables the children to celebrate Shabbat, as regular schools in Uganda are in session on Saturdays. The schools are open to all, with Christian and Moslem neighbors studying together with the Jewish youth. There are dorms for those who live in villages further away.