Tag Archives: British Empire

Jew of the Week: Janet Rosenberg Jagan

President of Guyana

Janet Rosenberg Jagan

Janet Rosenberg Jagan

Janet Rosenberg (1920-2009) was born in Chicago, the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants from Romania and Hungary. As a young nursing student she met a Guyanese dentist, Cheddi Jagan. The two got married less than a year later, and moved to Guyana, where Rosenberg worked as a nurse in her husband’s dental clinic. Meanwhile, the couple joined the British Guianese Labor Union and were very active in the political scene. Rosenberg founded Guyana’s Women’s Political and Economic Organization, and its Political Affairs Committee. Shortly after, she and her husband co-founded the Marxist-Leninist People’s Progressive Party (PPP), with Janet serving as its General Secretary. Soon, she was elected to the City Council of Guyana’s capital, Georgetown. From there, she moved up to the House of Assembly, and was appointed Deputy Speaker. However, for vocally opposing British colonial rule over Guyana, the Jagans were both jailed for 5 months, then kept under house arrest for another 2 years. After finally being freed, Rosenberg won back her seat in the Assembly and was appointed Minister of Labour, Health and Housing. In 1973, she was elected to the national parliament, and was re-elected three more times, making her the longest serving parliamentarian in the country’s history. In 1992, her husband became Guyana’s president, and after he passed away in 1997, Janet became the country’s prime minister and vice president. She won the national elections later that year and became president herself, making her just the third woman (and coincidentally, the third Jew) to head a nation in the Western Hemisphere. At age 79, the popular Rosenberg resigned her post due to health problems. She continued to serve in the government, and was still on the PPP’s Central Committee until shortly before her passing, at age 88. Aside from government, Rosenberg worked hard to expand the Guyanese literary world, and to make books available for Guyana’s children. She wrote several of her own books, and was the editor of the PPP’s newspaper for over 20 years. Rosenberg received Guyana’s highest honour, the Order of Excellence, along with a UNESCO award for her efforts on behalf of women’s rights.

Words of the Week

Greater is hospitality to wayfarers than receiving the Divine Presence.
– Talmud, Shevuot 35b

Jew of the Week: Semei Kakungulu

The Jewish Warrior-King of Africa

Semei Kakungulu

Semei Kakungulu, founder of the Jewish Abayudaya tribe of Uganda

Semei Kakungulu (1869-1928) was born into the African tribe of Baganda. As a young man he was converted to Christianity by a missionary. Meanwhile, he grew to become a skilled warrior, as well as an influential politician. The British supported him, essentially turning him into the unofficial king of the Busoga region, which he conquered for the Empire along with other territories. However, the British did not want to confer any titles on him, fearing he would become too powerful. This strained the relationship, and soon Kakungulu also abandoned Protestant Christianity, further driving a wedge between him and the British. Having begun to study the Bible on his own, Kakungulu recognized that Christians had misinterpreted and manipulated it, for example changing the day of the Sabbath to Sunday despite the fact that the text explicitly says it must be Saturday. According to lore, Kakungulu isolated himself in a room with the Bible, and emerged some time later with the book torn in half, concluding that only the first half (the Old Testament) must be true. In 1919, he circumcised himself and his son, urging his followers to do the same. He started a new community focused on following the laws of the Torah. Starting in 1925, the growing community encountered a number of Orthodox Jews from Europe who were working and traveling in the area. One of them, a man named Joseph, taught the community (now known as the Abayudaya) proper Jewish rituals and prayers, the Hebrew language, and even showed them how to slaughter and prepare kosher meat. Soon after, the community dropped any remaining aspects of their former Christian faith, and properly converted to Judaism. Kakangulu wrote a Jewish manual for Africans, and was able to inspire as many as 8000 followers in his time, building a network of some 36 synagogues in the region. His descendants continue to thrive in today’s Uganda. Click here to read more about them.

Words of the Week

In those days it shall come to pass, that ten people, of all the nations of the world, shall grab onto the clothing of a Jew, and say: “We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”
Zechariah 8:23, as quoted by Kakungulu in response to a Christian missionary.