How the British Betrayal of an African Chieftain Explains the Origins of Ugandan Jewry

Aug. 24 2022

The recent documentary Shalom Putti gets the second half of its title from the name of a remote farming village in eastern Uganda, whose residents are strictly observant adherents of Judaism, although they are still in the process of obtaining formal recognition of their status from the Israeli rabbinate. Dina Gold recounts their story:

Semei Kakungulu was a warrior and tribal leader of Buganda [a kingdom roughly congruent with modern-day Uganda], who, during the 1880s, converted to Christianity under the tutelage of a Protestant missionary. The British, eager to bring the eastern part of the country under their rule, sought Kakungulu’s assistance in conquering two areas outside the Bugandan empire (Bukedi and Busoga). Kakungulu believed he would become king of Bukedi and Busoga, but the British colonial rulers refused to grant him that title and chose, instead, to administer the areas through colonial civil servants.

Disillusioned with Christianity, which Kakungulu came to believe was not following the Bible accurately (he pointed to the fact that Jesus was buried on a Friday and Mary and the disciples did not visit the tomb on the Sabbath but waited until Sunday), . . . in 1919 he founded a Jewish community called the Abayudaya (People of Judah).

Initially, Kakungulu’s definition of Judaism was simply practicing circumcision and observing the Sabbath. In 1922, he published a 90-page book of rules and prayers to deepen the community’s understanding of the tenets and rituals of Judaism. Today that community numbers more than 2,000—of which about 250 live in Putti.

As this engaging documentary vividly illustrates, Putti [today] has synagogues, a working mikveh, mezuzahs affixed to the doorposts, menorahs, Stars of David, and Israeli flags. The children attend the Jonathan Netanyahu Memorial School (named for Benjamin Netanyahu’s late commando brother, killed during the Entebbe rescue mission). The inhabitants keep kosher, read Hebrew, sing Israeli songs, circumcise their sons, wear tzizit and kippot, observe Shabbat, Passover, and Yom Kippur, and are fully Jewish in their religious and daily lives.

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Read more at Moment

More about: African Jewry, Conversion, Entebbe, Uganda

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy