Gershom Sizomu (b. 1972) was born in Uganda in a village of the Abayudaya, a group of Ugandans who had converted to Judaism a century ago under the leadership of (former Jew of the Week) Semei Kakungulu. Unfortunately, in recent decades many rabbis, including the Israeli Rabbinate, did not accept their conversion, especially because many Abayudaya were forcibly converted to Christianity, while others went into hiding during the violent regime of Idi Amin. Sizomu invited a group of American Conservative rabbis to do a formal conversion in 2003. Some 300 Abayudaya converted, though many more refused to participate in the ceremony since they considered themselves fully Jewish already. Sizomu affirmed that it was only a formality, stating “We’re already Jewish.” He said in the ceremony “I was born Jewish, and I’d like to stay Jewish.” Following this, Sizomu headed to the US to study at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. After five years, he was ordained a Conservative Rabbi. Upon his return to Africa, Sizomu converted another 250 people from Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. In 2016, Sizomu ran in the Ugandan parliamentary elections and won a seat, beating seven other candidates. This makes him the first rabbi (and the first Jew!) in Uganda’s parliament. He has been working diligently to reduce government waste, alleviate poverty, and improve the country’s water and electrical networks. Sizomu is still the spiritual leader of 2000 Abayudaya Jews, and oversees seven synagogues, two Jewish schools, and a mikveh. Last year, he organized the first Birthright trip for a group of 40 Abayudaya youths. While the Jewish Agency for Israel has officially recognized the Abayudaya, the Israeli Interior Ministry still hasn’t. Sizomu is currently working towards changing that, and is very hopeful. He has said: “We are not Jewish for purposes of immigration. We are Jewish because that is who we are, and we will never change that…” and that “If the Arab world declared war on Israel, we would fight and die to protect it.”
Words of the Week
He who has a why to live can bear almost any how. – Friedrich Nietzsche
Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg (b. 1933) was born in Brooklyn to an observant Conservative Jewish family. After earning a degree from Cornell, she pursued law at Harvard – one of just nine women in a class of 500 – and then completed her law studies at Columbia. During this time, she became the first ever woman to be published in two law reviews. She would later co-found the first law journal dedicated to women’s rights, and participated in some of the greatest cases on women’s rights before the Supreme Court. Not surprisingly, she is considered one of the key figures in ending gender discrimination. In the early 60’s, Ginsburg was a law researcher, spending time at the prestigious Lund University in Sweden (and co-authoring a book in Swedish). Following this, she was a law professor at Rutgers, and then at Columbia, where she was the first female professor to get tenure. In 1980, Ginsburg was appointed to the US Court of Appeals, and after 13 years of service, was elected to the Supreme Court (by an overwhelming 96 to 3 Senate vote). She has served continuously since then, and still rules on the Supreme Court today, despite being the oldest Justice at 82 years of age, and having battled two different cancers. Amazingly, she has never missed a single day of her Supreme Court duties. In 2012, she traveled to Egypt to assist in their transition to a democracy. True to her feminist roots, a couple of months ago Ginsburg co-authored ‘The Heroic and Visionary Women of Passover’ that looks at the central role of the female figures in the Exodus story. She has been ranked by Forbes as one of the ‘100 Most Powerful Women’ and among TIME’s list of 100 greatest icons.
You can’t have it all, all at once. Who—man or woman—has it all, all at once? Over my lifespan I think I have had it all. But in different periods of time things were rough. And if you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it. – Ruth Bader Ginsburg