An African leader expands his Jewish horizons

At conference in Jerusalem, Ugandan yeshiva student receives warm welcome, despite halachic questions.

Jews of Uganda 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jews of Uganda 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Participants at the ROI Summit, the gathering of young Jewish leaders that kicked off in Jerusalem on Sunday, are a case study in diversity. They come from dozens of countries and belong to many different streams of Judaism, or are entirely secular.
Still, Moshe Madoi of Uganda sticks out even in this colorful crowd. The 24-year-old yeshiva student, who is the only black participant in the conference this year, said he has been warmly welcomed by organizers at the conference and in Israel in general.
“In Efrat, where I am living, there has not been any kind of racism of segregation,” he said.
“Perhaps only during prayer when we are not considered part of the minyan,” the prayer quorum, “because we are not considered Jewish according to the halacha.”
Madoi is a member of the Abaduya, a religious minority in eastern Uganda that professes Judaism as its faith. The community members, which Madoi said number around 1,100 people, are followers and descendants of Tsemei Kakungulu, a 20th-century official who was fascinated by the Mosaic faith.
“He was given a bible with the New and Old Testament,” said Madoi, “but only followed the ones in the old one so a British officer told him, that’s what Jews do, so he said ‘OK, then I’m Jewish.’” Madoi is in Israel to learn more about Orthodox Judaism and bring back that knowledge to the 100 people back home who adhere to that stream of Judaism (the other 1,000, he said, are Conservative Jews.) “Relations between the two groups used to be bad but now they are fine,” he said. “Now we go to each other’s synagogues and pray.”
He said he would like to make aliya with the rest of his community, but that depends on the government’s immigration policy. So far, the gates are closed to them especially since they have not converted to Judaism, as recognized by the Orthodox establishment in Israel.
“I would like to convert officially and so would the rest of the Orthodox community back home,” said Modai.
Meanwhile, he is busy expanding his Jewish horizons at the ROI Summit, which is happy to have him.
“We need the resolve to create a fully inclusive Jewish community that embraces every Jew seeking to lead a personally meaningful and active Jewish life,” said billionaire philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, chairwoman of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network and funder of the ROI Community.
“We need the courage to focus not on the question of who is a Jew, but on what we can do as Jews to strengthen our community and the world around us. In many ways, the ROI Community is an embodiment of this vision.”