Kenya Installment 2
Sitting at JFK watching a flight to LAX leave before my eyes—but I booked a later flight so that if the connection went badly I could make it. So I sit here, longing to get back but also afforded the time to do some writing. I am so glad that I decided to travel with my now traveling pal Jeremy to Kenya. He had developed a relationship between his Milwaukee congregation and Kehillat Kasuku in the Ol Kalou district when Yehuda, the son of Yosef, one of the founding elders of the community visited Jeremy’s synagogue. For me it was, as I mentioned, 2007 all over again—the first year that I visited the Abayudaya in Mbale. Yehuda’s community was all new to me—and I was blown away by their commitment to Judaism, their passion, their music and their optimism. Shabbat as I described was a full day of active learning and sharing. Sunday was filled with recording, interviews and more learning. We finished the day with dancing—I played the violin, and Jeremy taught everyone to dance Zemer Atik—to say that it was magical is not enough. There are no words. To record the children singing Hatikvah, Yerushalayim Shel Zahav and Al Kol Eleh in perfect Hebrew with strong earnest voices was an experience that will stay with me forever. Jeremy said to me “how could Israel even consider these children to not be Jews!—we should send a recording to Netanyahu.” What was even more amazing was the adult community singing their songs in Kikuyu, the language of their tribe!! They sing psalms and other pieces including one about crossing the Sea of Reeds—so perfect for our Haggadah project. What is even more interesting is that these songs originated in the Messianic Church that was their original home. They substituted Adonai for Yeshu (Jesus) and made the content fit the theology of Judaism. The elders, such as Yosef, were originally Messianic Jews, but when the church in Kasuku approached the Israeli Embassy in Kenya for recognition as Jews, they of course learned that being Jewish does not include the belief that the Messiah had come. This inspired Yosef to break away from the Messianic Church because he wanted to be truly Jewish and worship the one true God. He inspired founders of the community, including a wonderful couple, Avraham and Sarah (no coincidence that they picked these names upon converting) to reject Jesus and begin worshipping according to the Jewish tradition. They sought the help of Rabbi Gershom who visited and was impressed—now the group is officially a part of the Abayudaya community, and all themselves Abayudaya. They are totally egalitarian, but are eager to learn from whichever Jewish sources are available. There are three prominent ways that they learn: 1. The Jewish Congregation of Nairobi 2. The Abayudaya Congregation and Rabbi Gershom and 3. YouTube.
Now they will have number 4—The Cantors Assembly. Already Jeremy and I created YouTube videos to teach them songs for Purim and others.
We are also launching a campaign to do a few things that are very important to the community. A Torah is being donated to them, and we are going to provide funding for a mahogany ark. I also talked to Yehudah about registering the community with the Kenyan government—this provides legitimacy and provides the ability to have a bank account. We are also going to help with creating NGO status so that donators can receive the tax credit.
There is so much to do. To teach, to provide, to help the community survive in a place where there is poverty and lack of access to so many things that we take for granted. I like that Yehuda wants to create a musical project that can be sold and bring in funds for the community. We can provide only so much, and we need to create ways to sustain the Jews of Kenya.
Look for Jeremy Stein and Mike Stein to put out info on fund raising for the ark and the registration. Of course, this may turn out to be a competition amongst Steins—and I know that my friends and congregation won’t let me down!!
Oh, and yes, we went on a walking safari yesterday -- will post some photos --FUN!!!