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Mr. Aaron Kintu Moses

At Convention 2015, you will have the privilege and pleasure of meeting Aaron Kintu Moses who comes to Miami all the way from Mbale, Uganda to join us in brotherhood.  It may surprise you that Uganda has a thriving Jewish community with several synagogues.  And yes, Aaron performs weddings, ministers to the sick, and teaches in a Jewish school. His mission is to raise awareness about the existence of the Jewish community in Uganda and garner support for its continued success. As headmaster of the Abayudaya Primary School, the local Jewish elementary school, Aaron will share stories about his native Uganda and how the Jewish community evolved and, with our help, will continue to flourish in Uganda.

It's a critical mission." We are actually trying to fight isolation, which we have been living in for a long, long time,” he says.    We are actually trying to fight isolation, which we have been living in for a long, long time," he says. As the face of the Ugandan Jewish community, Aaron himself says he followed the footsteps of his father, who served as a spiritual leader in Abayudaya (Ugandan for "Children of Israel"), until his death in 1986. Two decades later, Aaron calls his father one of the biggest influences in his life. Aaron recalls riding to synagogue on the back of his father's bicycle, and singing Jewish songs with him. "He would tell us stories about Israel," Aaron says. "So these stories influenced me to love his ways."

Today, Aaron reflects on the fact that life as a Ugandan Jew is not, and has not, been easy. In a country where more than 80 percent of the population is Christian, Jews have been an extreme minority since the community's inception there in the late 19th century. Currently, the Ugandan government does not recognize Jewish holidays, so government employees who are Jewish must work on those days, Aaron says. Similarly, there are no Jewish representatives to the national government, effectively eliminating their public voice. "They don't treat us badly," he says, but "we don't have much influence. We don't have people in the central government, but we are not oppressed as such."

Historically speaking, it's a familiar role. The Ugandan Jewish community traces its origins to founder Semei Kakungulu, who rejected Christianity brought by missionaries in the 1880s. Instead, he sought Jewish principles he learned in the Old Testament (which the same missionaries also gave him). In 1919, Kakungulu circumcised himself, his sons, and a group of followers, practically declaring themselves Jews. Over the next hundred years and counting, community life has ebbed and flowed: faltering after the patriarch Kakungulu's death in 1928, growing to 3,000 members under new leadership, diminishing to 300 during the regime of the dictator Idi Amin, and enjoying an upswing after he was overthrown.

Perhaps most significantly, the community was bolstered in 2002 when a panel of Conservative rabbis converted the Ugandans to Judaism, authenticating their Jewish status in the eyes of many (excluding the Israeli government, which only recognizes Orthodox conversions). Today, Aaron says most Ugandan Jews live in Mbale, himself included. In addition to several synagogues, two schools are the centerpieces of the Abayudaya community. In general, many in Abayudaya are observant, and Aaron tells me his family keeps kosher and observes Shabbat: eating challah, reciting kiddush, attending synagogue.

As far as community relations go, the Jewish community — once shunned -- has partnered with a Muslim and Christian coffee-producing cooperative. Although it sometimes hinders their ability to observe their Jewish rituals, many who are not subsistence farmers are employed at municipal jobs; Aaron himself was a public school teacher in a former life. It's no stretch to imagine, therefore, that Aaron considers education to be something of a thread of hope: It sustained the Jewish community in Uganda more than a hundred years ago when the community got started, and he hopes it will sustain the community in the future, via Jewish schools. As such, one day, Aaron quit his public school job. He had no salary, three children to feed and a wife to support -- but he says he was fueled by the (until then) foreign concept of a Jewish school. Initially, Aaron attracted no more than 15 students to a small, two-room schoolhouse where the children received Judaic and secular instruction. Today, there are several hundred elementary school students and high schoolers. In fact, the growing student body and a desire to build more dormitories propelled Aaron to the United States this year.

Article credit: E. B. Solomont & American Jewish Life Magazine of Atlanta, GA January/February 2007