As Christians embark on the celebrations of the Easter this weekend, the Abayudaya community is marking a different activity all together. The Abayudaya community, which is stationed at Nabugoye hill in Namayonyi Sub County in Mbale district, practices Judaism. Rabbi Gershom Wambedde, the spiritual leader of the Abayudaya Community in Uganda says that they are celebrating “Pessa”, which marks the departure of the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt.
Christians celebrate Easter to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Rabbi Gershom Wambedde says that Pessa is remembered as a day God sent Moses to rescue the Israelites from Egypt and led them to Canaan, the Promised Land.
He explains that the celebrations that last for a whole week, are marked with drinking of yeast-free wine which they call kidush, unleavened bread and green vegetables in a gesture to share the suffering of the people around the world. Gershomnotes that the world is characterized by pain because of poverty, tyranny; diseases and illiteracy, which he says have been brought about by unfaithful mankind.
The 600 members of the Abayudaya community lead a life devoted to traditional Jewish practices. They observe the Sabbath and holidays, attend services, follow dietary laws, and cling tightly to traditions in their small mud and brick synagogues. Surrounded by Muslims and Christians, facing poverty and isolation, these people have maintained their Jewish way of life for four generations since the initial conversion of their tribal chief Semei Kukungulu in 1917.
Even during Idi Amin’s reign of terror when synagogues were closed and prayers held in secret, the Abayudaya did not abandon their beliefs. Its founder, Semei Kakungulu, broke away from the church initially because of a personal quarrel with the British. Subsequently, his adherence to the Old Testament brought him to Judaism. Until his death, Kakungulu maintained his oppositions to the use of medicines, believing that the Bible forbade it. He even refused to let his cattle be inoculated.
On this issue there were many misunderstandings between Kakungulu and the British administrators, and when the latter inoculated 1200 heads of Kakungulu’s cattle against his wishes; he decided to donate the cows to Government. Despite his encounters with Jews, who certainly told him that the use of medicines was not against the Law, he did not retract his opposition to doctors and medicines. Kakungulu died in Mbale on 24 November in 1928. Kakungulu was survived by four sons: Yuda Makabee who was apparently sickly but refused medical care, Nimrod, Ibulaim Ndaula, and Israel. Ibulaim Ndaula became a Christian after his father’s death.