Tag Archives: Uganda

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.

Jew of the Week: Menachem Golan

Menachem Golan

Menachem Golan

Menachem Globus (1929-2014) was born in Tiberias, Israel to Polish-Jewish parents. He served as an air force pilot and bombardier during Israel’s War of Independence (when he changed his last name to Golan). After this, he studied theatre and drama in England, followed by film-making in New York University. Together with his cousin Yoram Globus, Golan began making Israeli movies in the 1960s. They would go on to produce some of Israel’s most famous classics, such as Operation Thunderbolt about the IDF Entebbe raid that saved Israeli hostages in Uganda, and the comedy series Eskimo Limon, which left a permanent mark on Israeli culture. In 1979, Golan purchased the Cannon Group and expanded into Hollywood. Throughout the 1980s he produced some of the biggest action hits of the time, including Sylvester Stallone’s Over the Top, Chuck Norris’ The Delta Force, and Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Bloodsport and Kickboxer. He was also one of the first to see the allure of adapting toys and comic books to film, producing Masters of the UniverseSuperman IV, and trying to bring Spider-Man to the big screen (it did only after Sony bought out the film rights). In all, Golan produced over 200 films, and directed 44 of them himself, earning three Academy Award nominations, and the Israel Prize. Sadly, Golan passed away last Friday. Paying tribute to the filmmaker, Chuck Norris said that it was Golan who turned him into a superstar, and Van Damme tweeted: “I love you, and will always do.”

Words of the Week

…splitting Judaism into ‘orthodox, conservative, and reform’ is a purely artificial division, for all Jews share one and the same Torah given by the One and same God. While there are more observant Jews and less observant ones, to tack on a label does not change the reality that we are all one.
– Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe 

Jew of the Week: Sivan Borowich-Ya’ari

Saving Africa With Israeli Technology

Sivan Borowich-Ya'ari

Sivan Borowich-Ya’ari

Sivan Borowich-Ya’ari was born in Israel to an Algerian-Jewish father and Tunisian-Jewish mother. She was raised in France, but returned to Israel to serve in the army. After her service, Ya’ari moved to the United States to pursue higher education. While completing a Master’s at Columbia University, she went on an internship to Senegal with the United Nations Development Program, working to bring electrical generators to poor villages. Inspired by the terrible living conditions that she saw, Ya’ari took it upon herself to make a positive change in Africa. Soon after, she started her own project to bring solar-powered electricity to a Tanzanian village. In 2008, Ya’ari founded a non-profit organization, originally called Jewish Heart for Africa, and now Innovation: Africa. Its mission: making Africa a better place, and doing it with modern Israeli technology. Since then, her organization has helped bring light and electricity, food and water, education and medical care to over 450,000 people in Africa, particularly in Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi. Over 250,000 children have been able to get vaccinated thanks to solar refrigerators provided by Innovation: Africa. Ya’ari works together with impoverished villages to bring them the basic infrastructure that they need. Her efforts have stimulated business opportunities, wider education, and better health. The organization maintains its promise to contribute 100% of donations for its causes, a part of which goes to develop novel Israeli technologies. Last fall, Ya’ari was honoured with the United Nation’s Innovation Award.

Words of the Week

You speak of all that you need, but you say nothing of what you are needed for.
– Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi