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. During his time at the Ziegler School of Rabbinics he and his family visited us many times, sharing meals, Shabbatot, family time—and even my wife Kelley helped teach Tziporra (Gershom’s wife) how to drive our 1982 Honda Civic, which we lent to them while he was in school. We recorded a CD together and our families drew very close.
When I finally went to Uganda, I brought my son Jared, who used the trip to write and gather information for his ethnomusicology class at UCSB. While in Uganda, Jared and I helped officiate at a wedding of an American ex-pat and his Kenyan wife (she converted to Judaism in Mbale—I was part of the beit din). We also recorded music with my MacPro, Pro Tools, mics and stands that I carried in a long black duffel bag. (also in that bag were the atzei chayim that belonged to a Torah that I carried on board the plane). A funny note—I didn’t bring pop filters for the vocals, so I hung my tallit kattan on the mic stand. We recorded 10 songs 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.
Now, 13 years later (Mazal tov!), this music project has finally given birth.
The Cantors Assembly in a show of support for the Abayudaya, travelled to Uganda in February, 2019. We recorded music, we interviewed Abayuday, we davened together, we taught, we visited villages and outlying congregations and we danced with a Torah brought by Hazzan Jerry Berkowitz. In our discussions before leaving, I talked about the overthrow of Idi Amin which occurred on the 14th of Nisan in 1979. The Abayudaya who had gone underground under the threat of certain imprisonment or death heard the news, but did not trust its veracity—fake news was often used to lure people out of hiding. After it was confirmed, they had their first Feast of Freedom in seven years. This is the basis of our Haggadah—the telling of the story of the Abayudaya. For me, it is the result of 13 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!”.
I am honored to work with so many talented people who made this project possible and am grateful to those who supported this financially. 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.
I look forward to continuing blogging about this work as we move forward!!
For more details about the Haggadah, to download the sample and listen to audio, click here.