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MBALE, Uganda (RNS) — During a recent Shabbat service here, Rabbi Gershom Sizomu led dozens of worshippers in a prayer for unity. Women sang psalms. Children clapped. Men wearing yarmulkes played drums and guitars.
Locally known as Abayudaya or “the people of Judah,” they practice Conservative Judaism with an African flair — and right now, need exactly that prayer. A conflict is splitting the community, which is almost a century old.
Conflict - Sizomu - Supporters - Half - Brother
The conflict pits Sizomu’s supporters against his half brother, Joab Jonadab Keki.
Keki has even asked a Ugandan court to remove Sizomu as rabbi, accusing him of mismanagement. Sizomu and his supporters denied the allegations and filed a counterclaim.
Members - Congregation - Community - Divide
Members of the congregation hope the community survives the growing divide.
“We have been praying for peace for everyone, and looking to the north where Israel is,” said Jacob Owani, 35, after the service. “We only have one spiritual leader. His name is Rabbi Sizomu. Anyone doing something (to him) is evil, only wanting to set up another system to be able to get away with corrupt deeds.”
Mbale - Miles - Kampala - Abayudaya - Community
Located in Mbale, around 150 miles northeast of Kampala, the Abayudaya community of 2,000 people dates from 1919, when the British tasked Semei Kakungulu with spreading Christianity in eastern Uganda. Instead, he favored the Hebrew Bible and founded a Jewish community. In the 1970s, the community dwindled to a few hundred members when Ugandan dictator Idi Amin outlawed it.
Keki, 59, has accused Sizomu, 49, of mismanagement of the Abayudaya community’s funds and properties, including its synagogue, health clinic, school, the rabbi’s house and another residence. Rather than managing those assets on behalf of the community or using them to support charitable causes, he’s enriched himself, Keki said.
Brother - Thief - Corrupt - Keki - Properties
“My brother is a thief and corrupt,” said Keki. “He has stolen the properties of the community and assigned them to himself...
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