Sincere best wishes for a happy healthy 5784 to everyone, and peace and prosperity to all Kulanu communities
Kulanu Canada is excited to share news with our supporters and friends of both the Kulanu.org and Kulanu Canada communities. While our Canadian NGO is small, we have reached out to assist several isolated Jewish communities and we celebrate all the work of our US partner organization.
Kulanu Canada Sends Shechita Knife to Manado, Sulawesi Utara, Indonesia
After hosting a webinar with Rabbi Yaakov Baruch in March, we learned that the community had lost its only ritual knife for animal slaughter. With support from several local donors, and the assistance of the Kashruth Council of Greater Toronto, we we were able to purchase and ship a new shechita knife to Yaakov. Here he proudly displays it. Thanks to Kulanu US for providing information and offering lessons to Yaakov on best practices in ritual slaughter.
Yaakov responded to questions from our audience and here is what he sent to one inquirer:
“We have about 20 people Indigenous people who are active in our Synagogue, the rest are Dutch and Iraqi Jewish families, about 5 people left in my hometown, majority of Dutch and Iraqi Jews are living in Surabaya and Jakarta. The last conversion there were about 50 Indigenous people who already make Giyyur from whole of Indonesia.”
Kulanu Canada Supports Tifferet Israel, in Sefwi Wawaso, Ghana
Over the years we have sold dozens of beautiful handmade challah covers to benefit this Jewish community. We have recently received a new batch of 40 challah covers and are eager to sell them and return revenue to the community. Some samples are shown below. If you would like to purchase a challah cover (there are many other colours), please contact Kulanu Canada Vice President, Laurence Alexander, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kulanu Canada Supports the Jewish Community of Suriname
Kulanu Canada helped the Suriname Jewish community in their fundraising to buy Matzot and Kosher wine for the community Seder. The Matzot and Kosher wine have to be imported from the USA and shipped to Suriname which has restrictions on the use of US dollars.
Kulanu Canada Supports Several Deaf Abayudaya Students, in Uganda
On learning of the deaf education project for Abayudaya children, Kulanu Canada contacted the Kulanu US coordinator and learned what the specific needs are. We have committed $2000 to help meet operational expenses. Kulanu Canada is very thrilled to work with Laura Wetzler, US and Dr. Samson Wamani of Mbale to assist young Jewish children with severe hearing disabilities. See images of happy kids sent to us by Laura.
You can help Kulanu Canada help our communities, those emerging or re-emerging, those that are isolated from mainstream Jewishlife. To make a donation, click here or on the banner below.
There’s so much joy in the Ugandan Jewish experience, but this is not to say there aren’t hardships, too.
By Shoshana McKinney Jul 10, 2023
I’m a Jewish African American born to Jews by choice in Southern California. As a kid, I was almost always asked to explain or qualify my Jewish identity when meeting a new person in a Jewish space. Other kids would give me the “Jew quiz” while adults at synagogue would give my mother the third degree, so desperate they were to understand how she wound up there. My Yiddishkeit required regular and articulable validation.
Defending my Judaism unequivocally made me a better Jew. I had to get clear on my values and beliefs and owning my place in the Jewish story. Still, I am so happy to pass this legacy down to my son with less drama.
We just had to move to Uganda to get there.
Back in 2020, when my Ugandan Jewish husband couldn’t come back to America because of the pandemic travel restrictions, I had to pack us up and fly over to Uganda, where we have lived ever since. You would be absolutely correct if you imagined a scene of a clueless American being called a weak softie because her keyboard-clicking hands don’t have the calluses required to work a garden hoe for more than 15 minutes. My life is basically the African version of “Green Acres.” Goodbye, city life!
Rural Uganda life requires developing a new set of skills, like remembering to add my 3-year-old son’s de-worming on the calendar and using a pill cutter to chop his weekly anti-malaria pill. All of the life forms thrive here — the ones we like to post on Instagram and the ones requiring medicated bath soap.
Luckily, it takes a village to raise a child, and that is truer than ever here. We live on a family compound with several houses belonging to grandparents, aunties, uncles and even a guest house. My husband built our house from the ground up. Our living room is always open and our extended family is always welcome, and the women in our close-knit family take a soft, nurturing approach. It also means that I am called on to be a motherly figure to any one of my son’s eight cousins at a moment’s notice. (I keep a hoard of bubble-gum lollipops on deck for just that.)
Indigenous Ugandans have been practicing Judaism for over a century. The Jewish community here has around 6,000 members and 11 officially established synagogues — three Orthodox, seven Conservative and a Chabad in the capital. The Jews originate from the area around Mbale, Uganda. Community meals like Passover seders, Purim Seudahs and Shabbat lunches are expected from each synagogue. The Ugandan chuppah is made of sugar cane poles and we eat it at the end of the wedding. There is also an annual sukkah contest where every family can participate; the over-abundance of banana leaves is put to good use.
It’s rare for a Jewish family to celebrate a holiday or a simcha without at least 20 other friends or neighbors in attendance. All the Jews in the area have known and married into each other’s families for generations.
There is only one Jewish primary school and one Jewish secondary school; both offer boarding. But both schools are inconveniently located along dirt roads in the steep, windy, bumpy hills near the mountains approaching Mount Elgon. Instead, my son goes to a preschool that is technically a Christian school, but thankfully it’s quite secular — though maybe not for long. He’s about to teach his classmates the Ugandan melody of “Lecha Dodi” since I’m learning it for a stint and have been singing it compulsively. I’m staying committed to learning more Hebrew Shabbat songs and singing together with the kids all week long so that the songs are deeply ingrained. (Speaking of singing, song parodies can be made by substituting the original lyrics for the words “poo poo.” To my son, I’m instantly considered a comedic genius. But we don’t do this with Jewish songs, thou shalt not.)
Bounding around through the corn and cassava fields, I’m often reminding my little one to keep his kippah on. Wearing a kippah is something my husband also does almost every day. To my relief, I feel completely safe with them doing this in Uganda. Unlike in my former stomping ground of Dallas, no armed guards are outside the synagogue. Nobody here has ever thought about security outside of the possibility of theft of the silver Judaica in the sanctuary.
On our Shabbat walks to synagogue, we pass by wildflowers, a symphony of birds, baby goats, beautiful butterflies and dragonflies. My heart is warmed by these simple treasures. Holding my son’s sweet little hand in these moments feels like such an honor and the highest blessing.
And then we arrive at a synagogue where everyone is Black. This is a rare time that my identity is normalized in a Jewish space. It’s all I could have ever wanted for my son: to be comfortable in his own skin and feel Judaism as an inextricable part of his identity as he grows up.
There’s so much joy in the Ugandan Jewish experience, but this is not to say there aren’t hardships, too. Several of the other Jewish moms who sit next to me in the women’s section of our synagogue have completed a week of backbreaking work in the vegetable fields for only $2 per day. The months of January to March are very hard for most mothers who are waiting for the harvest to come and living off of meager scraps. Some of these moms are food insecure and come to synagogue specifically for the community meal after the prayer service. They bring all of their children to come and eat, watching that not even a grain of rice is wasted.
Most women in the community don’t have running water and collect rainwater from their houses. Whenever that isn’t enough, they have to take their yellow jerricans to the ground water pump, carrying 10 or more liters of water at a time. There are also women so poor they are immobilized for days each month due to lack of feminine hygiene products.
I miss being able to get all of the matzah and kosher wine I want at Passover, like I did back in America. Chabad in the capital city of Kampala is a five-hour drive away and they ration their Passover products — only one sheet of matzah per person at the seder. And I miss not having to make separate stops to buy professionally raised eggs and live chickens for kashrut observance. How convenient it was to get kosher packages of boneless, skinless meat in the grocery store!
Still, discovering the Jewish community of Uganda was like discovering a long-lost cousin I never knew existed. It’s my hope to own houses in both Uganda and America one day so I can continue my work in connecting both of these Jewish communities.
Uganda really does feel like home now. Loving family members, warm culture and natural beauty come together in the life I have always wanted.
Shoshana McKinney is a traditional Jewish mom and stepmom living in Uganda full-time since 2021. She is the executive director of Tikvah Chadasha Foundation Uganda and a columnist. Find her on Facebook.
(JTA) — For the past several years, life was good for Lalam Hangshing as president of the Bnei Menashe Council, the governing body for Jewish communities in the Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram.
While living at his parents’ house, he and his wife enjoyed the clean air and beautiful scenery of Manipur, a state in northeast India home to close to 3 million people. Miles away, Hangshing rented out a newly-built four-story home to a film production company.
Everything changed on May 3, when rioting broke out between the ethnic majority Meiteis and the tribal minority Kukis, a violent conflagration that had been building up for years. Local groups say Meiteis began targeting Kuki institutions and razing homes to the ground, and Hangshing — also the general secretary of a Kuki-led political party — feared his house was next.
“When the problems started on the third of May, with military precision, the mobs went straight to [Kuki] houses,” Hangshing said. “They ransacked them and vandalized them and they burned each and every house in Imphal city within one and a half days.”
According to Shavei Israel, an NGO that helps “lost tribe” Jewish communities immigrate to Israel, over 1,000 members of the community, or 20% of their total, have been displaced. One community member was killed, and another was shot in the chest and is hospitalized. Two synagogues and mikvahs, or ritual baths, were burned down.
(Degel Menashe, an Israeli NGO that is dedicated to supporting the Bnei Menashe and has a longstanding feud with Shavei Israel, said one synagogue was burned.)
Hangshing is Kuki, as are the thousands of other Bnei Menashe Jews in Manipur. On May 4, Hangshing left his home and over a month later, has yet to return.
He spoke with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency from Delhi, more than 1,000 miles from his home. His four-story house has been completely destroyed, but his parents’ home is somehow still standing. He worries about family possessions, such as religious books belonging to his father — who had helped found Manipur’s Jewish community — and a favorite set of golf clubs left behind, all in danger of being looted or destroyed any day now.
Another estimated 292 Bnei Menashe families have fled to Kuki-majority hill areas within Manipur or to the nearby state of Mizoram, according to Shavei Israel.
In Mizoram, over 100 Jews initially took refuge in the Shalom Tzion synagogue in Aizawl, in the houses of other Jewish families or at hotels, but most have moved to a paramilitary camp nearby. Community leaders say the refugees are not facing any immediate danger and have enough food and supplies thanks to the tens of thousands of dollars in aid rolling in from Shavei Israel and Degel Menashe.
“They basically just fled with their documents, and they have prayer books, their tefillin and ritual items, and the clothes on their back,” said Asaf Renthlei, a Mizoram Jewish community member and Degel Menashe volunteer. At relief camps, he said, community members have observed Shabbat every week since they fled.
“This is one of the gravest crises the Bnei Menashe in India have ever experienced,” said Michael Freund, who has been chairman of Shavei Israel since he founded the organization in 2002.
“A state gone rogue”
Violence broke out in Manipur state in early May when tribal groups launched a protest against the Meitei’s demand for Scheduled Tribe status, which is traditionally reserved for minority tribes such as the Kukis and ensures certain rights to education, government jobs and other privileges. The Kukis (which make up about 16% of the population and are majority Christian) say that the Meiteis (who make up 53% and are majority Hindu) already have outsized privilege and political representation.
The May 3 protest was only the spark that has ignited a conflict based on long-standing grievances against the Kuki minority, said Sushant Singh, a senior research fellow at India’s Centre for Policy Research.
“At the core of it, it is about Meiteis claiming that they are the original inhabitants of the state, Kukis are illegal immigrants, and… [the Meiteis] have been forced to occupy only 10% of the land,” Singh said. “And because of the special privileges that tribes have in India, they cannot go and occupy the land occupied by Kukis.”
As the conflict enters its second month, over 100 deaths have been recorded and an estimated 40,000 people have been displaced; some entire villages are destroyed and over 200 churches have been burned, as well as the two synagogues in the Imphal area. A statewide internet blackout has been in place since the beginning of May.
While both Kukis and Meiteis have participated in the violence, Kukis have “suffered the most,” and state police and security forces have joined Meitei groups in targeting Kukis, Singh said. Human Rights Watch has called on India to investigate police violence in Manipur, which local groups have disputed.
“It has essentially been a state gone rogue acting against a minority community,” Singh said.
Though the government has called for a ceasefire and established a peace committee, those efforts to quell the violence have been unsuccessful. The military has implemented security measures and evacuated Kukis further into the hills and Meiteis into the plains, but Singh said this has only reinforced geographical divides, instead of facilitating a solution that could allow the two groups to live alongside one another in the future.
“The army has been called in but they are very ineffective because it’s a civil war. They can’t take sides. They just stand around and when the firing gets too heavy, they stand aside so it’s left to us to fend for ourselves,” Hangshing said.
Citing the government’s failure to protect them, Kukis have called for separation from the state of Manipur. As the conflict stretches into its second month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has yet to comment on the crisis in his country’s northeast.
An appeal to Israel
The Bnei Menashe identify as descendants of a “lost tribe” group, tracing their origins to the Israelite tribe of Menasseh. In 2005, a chief rabbi of Israel affirmed their identity as a “lost tribe” group with historic Jewish ties, but researchers have not found sufficient evidence to back the claim. Bnei Menashe Jews began immigrating to Israel in the 1990s, and because of their “lost tribe” status, they all undergo formal Orthodox conversions upon arrival. Around 5,000 remain in the states of Manipur and Mizoram today, and about 5,000 have already immigrated to Israel.
Israel’s foreign minister, Eli Cohen, visited India last month on a planned trip aimed at strengthening ties between the two countries. He did not comment on the matter, and his visit was cut short due to a military operation in Israel.
“I think under [Benjamin] Netanyahu, particularly in this stint as prime minister, there are very few expectations. He is very close to Mr. Modi’s government, so I don’t think anybody expects anything from Netanyahu,” Singh said.
The Bnei Menashe’s “grey zone” religious status, in the words of Renthlei, makes their immigration to Israel more complicated for them than most. Before the Bnei Menashe can even apply to immigrate, they must face a panel of rabbis — who usually come all the way to India — for interviews.
“It’s not like Ukraine. The Ukrainians are Jewish without any doubt. But the Bnei Menashe, we are in some gray zone of not exactly not Jews, but not exactly Jews also,” Renthlei said. “It’s unlikely that the Bnei Menashe would just be able to make aliyah, even in this situation, unlike the Ukrainians.” Thousands of Ukrainian Jews have immigrated to Israel since Russia’s invasion began in February 2022.
The Jewish Agency for Israel, which helps facilitate immigration, and the UJA-Federation of New York have provided funding to Shavei Israel to help displaced persons, representatives from Shavei said. The Jewish Agency, the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, and the Israeli consulate in India did not respond to JTA’s requests for comment.
“We’re too small to matter, I suppose,” said Isaac Thangjom, director of Degel Menashe. Thangjom, who lives in Israel, has been in contact with officials in the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration.
“They are very concerned, but they haven’t given me any explicit answer despite my proddings,” he said. “Their responses have been very tepid.”
This article was originally published by the JTA. Click here to view it on their website.
June 13, 2023 — Writer and researcher Genie Milgrom met with Pope Francis in his private Library at Vatican City this week. The private audience was planned by Rabbi Avi and Nehama Tawil, leaders of the European Jewish Community Centre (EJCC) in Brussels. She was accompanied by her husband Michael Milgrom and several members of the EJCC.
For over 8 years, Milgrom has been working tirelessly to have the Inquisition Judgements, known as Procesos, digitized so as to be able to follow the Pre-Inquisition genealogies of the Bnei Anousim or descendants of the Crypto Jews as well as the Sefardim who left Spain at the Expulsion in 1492. Inside each Proceso, there are clear genealogies given by those arrested for practicing Judaism underground. The reason being that the Inquisitors could follow the genealogies and arrest the extended families.
There are many historians who concur that the approximate number of Jews present in Spain before 1492 was approximately 300,000 but there is no exact and accurate number that historians can offer us. Of those, the consensus seems to be that 100,000 left in 1492 for the Ottoman Empire and other lands, 100,000 stayed behind and went underground to practice their religion while pretending to be Catholic, and 100,000 assimilated and were lost to the Jewish people.
Genie Milgrom belongs to the group whose family stayed and went underground in 1391 and for centuries, pretended to be Catholic. Milgrom returned to the Jewish people and was able to follow her own lineage via the Inquisition Procesos, finally finding an unbroken maternal line going back 22 grandmothers in a row. This took her over 12 years and it was no easy task yet, she clearly understood that unless these Inquisition records were digitized and up on the internet, the work and cost would be prohibitive for most people and she began her mission for the mass global digitalization of these Procesos.
During her audience, she was able to clearly explain to the Pope, the historical significance of the digitization as well as the present struggles in each country. The Pope was enthusiastic to help and assigned a Papal emissary to work hand in hand with her to obtain positive results. A truly significant and historical moment to regain the identities of those whose lineage was lost during the Spanish-Portuguese Inquisition.