By Hazzan Mike Stein and Hazzan Jeremy Stein

Sacred Sound’s Editor’s Note: The Cantors Assembly is excited to introduce our new interactive Abayudaya Haggadah. It is the culmination of two years of work following the CA’s mission of solidarity with the Jews of Uganda. We asked Hazzanim Mike Stein (Executive Producer) and Jeremy Stein (Co-Producer) to share their thoughts as we bring this special Haggadah to you in time for this Passover.

About the Project

In the 100th year of the Jewish people of Uganda, called Abayudaya, the Cantors Assembly ventured on a mission there to build a sacred bridge of peoplehood and to explore the unique aspects and commonalities of our musical heritages. Additionally, several cantors also visited the emerging Abayudaya community in Kenya. We recorded music, we interviewed Abayudaya community members, we davened together, we taught, we visited villages and outlying congregations and we danced with a Torah brought by Hazzan Jerry Berkowitz, a gift from his congregation in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

Hazzan Jeremy Stein celebrating the arrival
of a new Torah at Stern Synagogue in Nabugoye.

Our purpose was to not only visit but to come back and tell their story through music and spoken word. We pondered, “How could that be most effectively done?” Mission Co-Chair Jack Chomsky had the novel idea of an Abayudaya Haggadah to frame their history through the lens of the Passover seder. It was a perfect fit. When Jewish people tell their story every year on Passover, they read from the Haggadah. Haggadah literally means “the telling.” It tells of our journeys, our struggles, and our ultimate redemption through the words of Torah. What a perfect vehicle for telling the story of the Abayudaya.

The founding father of the Abayudaya was the warrior leader Semei Kakungulu. In 1919, after being approached by Christian missionaries, he fervently chose to refute their attempts to bring him into the fold of their faith, instead embracing Judaism as his chosen religion. Like the biblical Abraham, Kakungulu converted to a monotheistic life, desiring to follow, in his words, “the one true God.”

"Seeing and hearing the great work and love that the Steins (Michael and Jeremy) put into this Haggadic Collaboration with our brothers and sisters in Uganda brings back powerful memories and feeds my soul during a time when I'm giving up bread!" Cantor David Lipp, President of the Cantors Assembly

The group flourished without much outside influence for decades. In 1971, the despot Idi Amin took over Uganda and forbade any religious practice other than Islam. Having blossomed into a community of 3,000 souls, the Abayudaya dwindled significantly during this period. Amin was overthrown in 1979, on the eve of Passover. After eight years of practicing Judaism in secret, the Abayudaya could then openly celebrate a literal “feast of freedom” in their communities. Today, the Abayudaya are about 2,000 strong and flourishing in Judaic knowledge, with synagogues and schools in multiple villages.

This Haggadah celebrates the history and growth of the Abayudaya, filled with splashes of spiritual color of this flourishing Jewish culture, while noting the immense conviction which it took for our brothers and sisters in Uganda to survive. Through a mix of interviews, photos, music, videos, and guided questions for discussion, we offer you an intimate view into this amazing Jewish community. We invite you to use this Haggadah as your guide on this journey, not only at your Passover Seder, but year round.

Personal Reflections from Hazzan Mike Stein
In 2007 I travelled to Uganda to visit my good friend Rabbi Gershom Sizomu and his family. Gershom had graduated from the American Jewish University and had returned to his village to become the new Conservative movement trained rabbi, the only one in Sub-Saharan Africa. My son Jared joined me on the trip and we recorded ten songs with Gershom which I fully intended to release when I returned. They are still in my old computer, but Gershom and I used them as a reference to decide on which songs we would record for this project. In fact, the song “Kibbutz,” the story of the battle to reclaim the Nabugoye Hill Moses Synagogue, is included in this collection.

This music project has finally given birth. For me, it is the result of thirteen years of engagement with our brothers and sisters in Africa—for the Cantors Assembly it is a show of support and it shows clearly “What Cantors Do!” The CA is making history—we are connecting with our brothers and sisters around the world and this work helps to legitimize their right to be recognized as full partners in the Jewish world at large—and in Israel. That was our purpose in the first place.

Hazzan Michael Stein teaches a song to
children at the Hadassah Primary School.

There are so many people to thank, from our editors, writers, interviewers, musicians and photographers to our studio recording engineers, mixers, graphic design team, and  the Abayudaya Community and Abayudaya Youth. You can find the full list of credits in the Haggadah.

Special Thanks to Our Supporters and Volunteers
Cantors Assembly Foundation and its many financial supporters; Jewish Community Foundation affiliate of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation; Anshe Poale Tzedek, Manitowoc, Wisconsin; Justin Stein

Participants in the 2019 Cantors Assembly Abayudaya Solidarity Mission
Jerry Berkowitz, Jack Chomsky, Susan Gellman, Jesse Holzer, David Lipp, Pamela Schiffer, Amanda Ruppenthal Stein, Jeremy Stein, Michael Stein, Steven Stoehr, and Michael Weis.

How to Get the Abayudaya Haggadah for your Seders and Year Round Use
This first edition Haggadah is available for download with a suggested contribution to the Cantors Assembly of $18 per copy.

You can get this Beta version here.

We look forward to hearing your feedback as we prepare for a formal release next year. Haggadah Survey

Hazzan Jeremy Stein serves Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid in Milwaukee, WI. He lives with his wife,
Dr. Amanda Ruppenthal Stein, a musicologist and fellow Abayudaya Haggadah contributor.
They are proud parents of daughters Mirit and Hadas.

Hazzan Mike Stein serves Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, California. He is a recipient of the
Cantors Assembly Samuel Rosenbaum Award for Scholarship and Creativity.