From the Abayudaya Youth Association. A “Thanks You” for the support they have received from USY and members of our communities of their youth programming . Although their native language is not English, they have worked to share their words so we can “hear their voices”. Take a read:
Highlights from Sunday
-Watching the process of a cow become dinner
-Closing ceremonies of the 2nd AYA Convention
-Distribution of certificates of participation from AYA and USY
-Receiving the trophy for winning the soccer match
-African music and dance festival with performances from all the synagogues and
Monday we will travel to Sipi Falls for a hike, come back to the village and
meet with Yosef, the AYA Chairman, to review the convention and discuss the
coming year for the AYA, and then prepare to say goodbye and pack as we will be
heading back to Entebbe airport on Tuesday.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
Today we had a very eventful day with many activities that were very successful.
We began the days program with tree planting for the upcoming holiday of
Tu’Bshvat, the new year for trees. We planted four trees along the village road
and built fences around them out of tree branches to keep the goats away. This
was followed by a speech from one of the elders of the community and Headmaster
at the primary school, Aaron Kintu Moses, speaking about the importance of youth
togetherness in the community.
The program continued on with a session led by AYA youth performing very funny
and educational skits about some tough situations they face in their lives
followed by a discussion. To conclude the session, MC Sarah Nabagalah led improv
games for the remainder of time before lunch.
We then led our final program, an Israel program exploring what Israel means to
you personally. The three groups, Gefen, Zion, and Tamar, each received a long
sheet of butcher paper and markers and crayons and were asked to draw what they
thought of after hearing the words America, Uganda, Judaism, and Israel. The
answers were so interesting to see and the discussion that followed was very
spirited and had all the members participating.
The days focus shifted towards Shabbat, as we began cleaning the village and
preparing for the night. We were joined by a group of people from Kulanu, an
organization that has been involved with the Abayudaya since 1995, as well as
three travelers from Israel and one from Australia. As services began, the rabbi
noted that, “Nowhere else on the earth will you find so many Jews from Uganda,
Kenya, the US, and Israel being led in Maariv by a Jewish youth from Kenya.”
Rabbi Sizomu recognized the youth leaders in the AYA for all their hard work and
preparation for the convention in front of just over 200 people who came to
attend the Shabbat service.
After dinner, the youth gathered together to sing z’mirot and show off their
ruach before concluding the night with the Birkat Hamazon.
We continued the next day with Shabbat morning services where we were led in all
parts of the service by the AYA youth, and heard a D’var Torah delivered by one
of the AYA members who is training to be a religious leader in his village.
The day’s program continued after some free time with a hike to the resting
place of the founder of the Abayudaya, Semei Kakungulu. Here we learned about
the history of Kakungulu and his founding of the Abayudaya while also
experiencing the thunder, lightning, and some light rain from the Ugandan sky.
We concluded Shabbat with Havdallah and the days program ended with a dance for
all the youth to enjoy.
Mosquito Bite Counter
After 5 days, the mosquitos finally get on the scoreboard
The days progam began with an HIV/AIDS educational speaker, along with voluntary
HIV testing. This was open for not only the youth, but the entire area. It was
also the first time testing for many, since only 4 of 9 Abayudaya communities
We led another program about leadership today. Rory discussed leadership within
a family with the 13-18 age group. David led a session for the 19-35 age group
on understanding leadership individually and how you can be a leader in
overcoming youth challenges in the community. The participants were providing so
many suggestions for how they can overcome their challenges and had a spirited
debate on different approaches to these challenges.
We continued the program with a doctor who educated the youth on the risks and
dangerous affects of drug and alcohol abuse.
Following this we had sports and games. Rory led some youth in a modified
version of tennis using some game matierials we brought with us. The soccer
match this year was between the two teams named by the sportsmaster Team USY and
Team AYA. David participated on Team USY and ran around on the field pretending
to know how to play soccer as team USY won 2-1.
The day concluded once again with a dance party for the convention attendees,
with Ugandan music blasting from the speakers in the village center.
Hello from Uganda! We have finally arrived in the Abayudaya Community after a
long journey beginning in Los Angeles, stopping in New York and London and then
around 8 hours of driving from Entebbe, through the capital city of Kampala, and
finally arriving in Mbale and reaching Nabagoye Hill.
We spent our first day meeting people around the village and discussing the
convention with the AYA board. We attended their Executive Board meeting and
discussed the programs for the convention. Thanks to your support, we delivered many goods to the
AYA such as football(soccer) equipment, clothes, a new laptop and camera, and
We then began opening ceremonies for the convention,
including a speech from the AYA Chairman, Yosef Kalema, and introductions from
the synagogue youth leaders of their delegations.
We led two programs for the youth after the opening ceremonies. David led a
leadership program discussing Jewish heroes from biblical and modern times and
how we can apply their leadership traits to our lives as leaders in the
community. Rory led a session about the current situation in Israel regarding
Gilad Shalit, as well as a session of icebreakers and games. All of the sessions
went very well, with some participants even asking for extra copies of the
materials for them to keep and read.
Our friend Sarah who came to Far West convention a two years ago and our new
friend Esther took us on a tour of the town center and showed us around the area
before dinner, and then the rest of the night was filled with singing songs from
a songbook Far West provided at the convention last year and listening to
Ugandan music before heading to bed.
Sidenote: Elections for the new AYA board were supposed to take place today,
but the electoral board decided to postpone them for a few reasons-
A) they have a new constitution, but not all the executive board members have
signed and approved it, so they don’t want to elect a new board without the
rules set in place.
B) They don’t have the full amount of funding for the voting materials they need
at the current time.
C) They want the convention to be a time of celebration and not be spoiled by
people losing for office and being upset, especially because they have 16
positions, mostly opposed offices.
Because of all this, the elections have been postponed to a later date within
the next month, and when the date is chosen everyone will come back together to
elect a new executive board.
THIS COULD BE THE START OF SOMETHING BIG:
That is the message delivered to nearly 200 Shomrei Torah Synagogue members by a trio of Southern California young people who had traveled to far away Uganda to help lead the first-ever Conservative Movement Youth Conference on the African continent. It heralds the spread of Judaism throughout all of Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond in an area where, until now, there has been only a small Jewish population. And it all started here at Shomrei Torah Synagogue by our USY, our own youth group. We all have much of which to be proud.
The story is a prime example of positive thinking and positive actions. Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, then a rabbinic intern at STS, was engaged in conversation with David Weingarten, who was, at the time, the President of our Synagogue’s USY chapter. “What,” David asked, “could our USY do to help the youth of the Abayudaya?”
Without hesitation, the Rabbi responded, “David, what I would like to envision is a youth group organized as you young people are here in America.” And, as a result, the die was cast, and a partnership was born. According to Rabbi Camras, David conceived of the idea to establish the partnership and went about selling the idea to the youth and adults at STS, before challenging Far West Region USY to join in the endeavor..
Enlisting the aid of the Shomrei Torah Synagogue, our USY chapter began a fundraising campaign to bring three youths from the Abayudaya community to Los Angeles to let them experience the spirit and enthusiasm of a USY regional convention, participate in leadership training workshops and develop a variety of skills (as well as seeing a bit of Los Angeles). Three Ugandan teenagers came to the United States in May 2009 and returned home committed to fashioning a similar youth movement and convention in their village.
To help them, Far West Region USY raised an additional $3,000 to help finance the first convention in Africa hosting Jewish youngsters from eight Ugandan villages, Northern Uganda and neighboring Kenya. With additional fundraising, three California teen agers, David Weingarten (Regional VP Membership), Elyse Weissberger (Regional VP Social Action/Tikkun Olam), and Jason Schreiber (STS USY member), were selected to join their African partners in January 2010, when they traveled to Uganda to participate in the first-ever Jewish youth convention in Africa .
It was these three, soon after their return, and while Rabbi Sizomu and his family were in Los Angeles, who reported to the STS assembly recently the details of the first Abayudaya Youth Association convention. More than 200 young people participated in the five-day event modeled after Far West Region’s USY conventions in which leadership training, an Israel program, the rewards of education, HIV prevention, drug and alcohol abuse avoidance, and the role of religion in their lives were discussed at the many workshops. And, there was fun time! There were varied sports activities, including a soccer tournament and a dance and music festival.
As for the future, the growth of Conservative Judaism in Africa seems most promising, as the partners in this intercontinental venture grow and move forward. The young people on both continents are staying in touch via e-mail. Meanwhile, here at STS and at Far West Region USY, plans are in motion to continue the relationship. Already, the Abayudayan Youth Association is recognized as an honorary affiliate of the Far West Region.
So, what was the most memorable moment of all from this once-in-a-lifetime experience, I asked David. “Without doubt,” he replied, “it was knowing that this was the first time that the kids in Uganda led all the services, completely and totally. They conducted the Friday night services, delivered the D’var Torah and all of the Shabbat services, including the Torah readings, the Haftorah and the Havdallah. That was very cool.”
And as Rabbi Gershom told us when he was here in Los Angeles, “After the Elders of the community experienced the leadership of their youth during those Shabbat services, they all felt confident that the next generation is ready to carry forth our tradition. The future looks bright.”
A similar report by our three emissaries was made in Santa Clarita’s Beth Shalom Synagogue, where Elyse’s family is a member.