Leader of Ugandan Jewish Community Shares Story of Group’s Evolution

Aaron Kintu Moses is Headmaster of Jewish Primary School in Mbale

HARTFORD, CT, November 9, 2012 – Gone was the usual pizza served during Common Hour events and in its place 
Thursday was an aromatic and delicious spread of chapati bread; curried potato and vegetable stew; brown rice, cabbage, carrot and tomato stew; pineapple and bananas – all staples of the Ugandan diet.

Aaron Kintu Moses, headmaster of the Jewish Primary School in Mbale in eastern Uganda​​​​​


Pictured above are skullcaps or yarmulkes traditionally worn by Jewish men in Uganda.

 It was an unusual and tasty introduction to the main event – a talk by Aaron Kintu Moses, headmaster of the Jewish Primary School in Mbale in eastern Uganda, where 400 children are educated, including 150 who live on the premises. Moses’ visit to Trinity was part of his United States tour, sponsored by Kulanu, to raise awareness and funds for the Abayudaya Jewish community and its two schools. Founded in 1994, Kulanu (“All of Us” in Hebrew) is a non-profit organization that supports Jewish communities in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the U.S.

For more information about Kulanu’s work​ with the Abayudaya Jewish community, please visit: www.kulanu.org/abayudaya​. Since 1995, Kulanu has worked closely with the little-known Jewish community in Uganda to create and promote projects dealing with education, water, electricity, sanitation and sustainable development.

Moses’ stop at Trinity came approximately 10 months after Lisa Kassow, director of Trinity College Hillel, and three Trinity students, as well as Kassow’s daughter, Miri, and a small contingent from Wellesley College and Babson College went to Uganda and spent about a week among Abayudaya’s 1,500 Jews. In addition to learning about the tight-knit group, its history and customs, the U.S. contingent primarily devoted its time there to painting the dormitory and classrooms and cleaning the library at the primary school.

In introducing Moses, Kassow called the January trip “one of the most extraordinary and powerful experiences of my life.”

During his talk, Moses spoke of the founding of the congregation in 1919 and of the many religious rituals that became part of daily life. It was in 1919 that Ugandans began practicing Judaism when a local governor, Semei Kakungulu, studied the Old Testament and adopted the observance of all of Moses’ commandments.

Aaron Kintu Moses also noted the hardships faced by the Abayudaya community during the 1971-1979 reign of terror by Idi Amin, the military dictator and third president of Uganda. Amin’s administration was characterized by human rights abuses, political repression, ethnic persecution and corruption. It’s been estimated that between 100,000 and 500,000 Ugandans were put to death while Amin was in command.

Moses called that period “a hard time for the Jewish community,” and said that Amin killed so-called rebels by various means, including firing squads and drowning. Moses said the number of Jews shrank from 3,000 to about 300. It has since grown to about 1,500.

After Amin was ousted, Moses said Uganda’s new government promoted freedom of religion and that he “was one of the people who tried to bring our community together and back to life.”

Moses said that Jewish, Christian and Muslim students together attend the primary and high schools. “They learn and sing together. There’s no problem,” he told the Common Hour audience.

Only one of the classrooms in the high school has electricity and there is no running water. Despite the lack of modern amenities, the students are fed three meals a day. The students attend class Mondays through Fridays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

English is the official language in Uganda, a nation of 32 million people, although roughly 50 tribal languages are spoken in Ugandan homes.

One of the biggest problems faced by Ugandans, explained Moses, is malaria, which kills 70,000 to 100,000 people annually and is the leading cause of infant and maternal mortality.

Moses said the Abayudaya community celebrates all Jewish holidays and that the rabbi at its main synagogue, Gershom Sizomu, was ordained in the U.S.

The schools are supported by fees, donations and proceeds from a nearby interfaith coffee collective that was founded by JJ Keki, who is a farmer and an ordained cantor. The coffee collective is known as the Delicious Peace Coffee Collective of East Uganda.

To contribute to the work of Kulanu and the Abayudaya community, please visit: www.kulanu.org/donate.