In Secret Sisterhood

Just outside Mbale, Uganda’s third-largest city, a Jewish community called the Abayudaya lives secretly, hiding its traditional Jewish practice from its neighbors. Contact with other Jews is difficult, as is marrying within the faith. As Kenny Schultz, who twice visited the Abayudaya, reported for Kulanu, the women of the community’ tend to marry “out” more often than the men. “It was especially gratifying,” he writes, “to witness . . . two women who read their aliyot in English. Last year, the women primarily sat in the corner and said nothing. I realized, then, that part of the reason the women were fleeing from the Abayudaya community was because they lacked a religious identity. Without inclusion in the service and in the development of the community, Judaism represented no more than a strange word.”

Not all the women have fled, however. A delegation from Kulanu, which works to find dispersed remnants of the Jewish people, recently met with a group of Abayudaya women, bringing them candles for Shabbat and, according to one woman, a renewed spiritual connection to Judaism. Naume Aron, who heads the Abayudaya Women’s Association, reports that her group is raising funds to buy a heifer for the community and meets “as sisters once a week to combat family problems. We also learn to pray and sing in Hebrew and talk about various issues of ethical and moral value.”

For more information contact Janet Kurland or Rhoda Posner at Jewish Family Services in Baltimore, (410) 466-9200.