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.

Read more at Moment

More about: African Jewry, Conversion, Entebbe, Uganda


Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria