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.