CAPE TOWN, South Africa – When Rabbi Seth Levin came to Africa, he was hoping for a vacation complete with time in the sun and a safari. What the former Israeli commando found instead was a unique tribe of black Jews in Uganda.
“Not many in the West realize that the British colonial administration in Uganda offered Uganda as a homeland for the Jews a century ago,” Levin told WorldNetDaily in a recent interview. Levin was completing his vacation with a stop in Cape Town’s wine lands.
“During the Zionist Congress held around the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, Uganda and Argentina were considered, along with Palestine, as a suitable homeland for the Jewish people,” he explained.
During his travels around Africa, Levin went to Uganda and came across the Abayudaya Jews, who, to his surprise, wore yarmulkes, baked matzoth bread, ate kosher foods and prayed in Hebrew.
“My wife and I found that the Abayudaya Jews are practicing ancient rituals that we Jews in America and Israel gave up long ago,” he said.
Levin said that he met Gershom Sizomu, the top leader of the Abayudaya movement.
“Other rabbis have visited Uganda and interacted with this community. There are also Jewish believers in nearby Ethiopia. Many Ethiopian Jews have moved to Israel … along with many Russians. This has happened since the 1980s. Some see this as the fulfillment of Bible prophecy.”
Levin told WorldNetDaily that the Abayudaya are not a part of the “lost tribes of Israel,” but rather, “were converted to Judaism from Christianity after World War I.”
Last month, a proper rabbinical court traveled from Israel to Uganda to formally convert many of the Abayudaya – most of whom are poverty-stricken subsistence farmers near Kampala – to Judaism. Levin said that this was important so that the Ugandan Jews would be brought closer to their brethren in Israel.
Many Abayudaya hope to get increased funding for establishing Jewish cultural institutions in Uganda.
Uganda is a nation gripped by many problems, such as genocide, AIDS and the legacy of the mass murder of Idi Amin.
“Ironically, Idi Amin did some training with the Israeli military,” Levin told WND. “Life can be so strange.”
A former Ugandan princess spoke of the problems her country has faced.
“In Uganda, AIDS is a huge problem,” she told WND, “and it seems as if the book of Revelation has come to life at times. But there is always hope.”
The princess, who asked that her name not be used because of political reasons, was smuggled out of Uganda as a baby during one of Amin’s purges. She moved to the American Southwest, where she lived with a relative.
Commented Levin, “It seems that Uganda was destined to become a Jewish colony after all.”
Speaking of the Abayudaya, Levin said, “They have paid a great price to follow the God of the Bible. Idi Amin, for a time, outlawed Judaism and closed Uganda’s synagogues.”
Lane Rosen, a South African Internet technology professional based in Cape Town, told WorldNetDaily he was going to travel to Uganda to visit with the Abayudaya.
“The Abayuda had to hold services to worship God in secret during the time of persecution under Idi Amin. This shows their faithfulness. We Jews in Israel, America and South Africa should find their story both a revelation and an inspiration.”