Milwaukee, Wisconsin – Israel Siriri, head of the executive committee for the Abayudaya Jewish community in Mbale, Uganda, will speak about his community at Congregation Beth Israel, 6880 N. Green Bay Avenue, at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 11, 2008. The evening entitled, “Two Jews, Two Continents, One People” will feature a conversation between Rabbi Jacob Herber and Mr. Siriri. Rabbi Herber met Mr. Siriri in Uganda during the summer of 2008 when the Rabbi served as part of the Bet Din formally converting 250 Africans.
The program is free and open to the public. Kippot crocheted by members of the Abayudaya community and a CD of their music will be available for purchase. MAJC, the Milwaukee Area Jewish Committee and Congregation Beth Israel are sponsoring his visit. “This is a very special opportunity,” explained MAJC Vice-President Michael Altman. “The story of the Abayudaya is so inspiring and like Jews everywhere, they are doing so much to improve their own lives and the lives of their neighbors. It is so moving to hear how the Abayudaya are taking a leadership role in bringing together Jews, Christians and Muslims to study together in the schools and work together in the “Delicious Peace” Mirembe Kawomera fair trade organic coffee project.”
Mr. Siriri will be speaking about the 700-member Abayudaya community (established in 1919) and their struggle to maintain their Jewish identity in Uganda. He will share the latest news of the Abayudaya sustainable development projects working to help this struggling African Jewish community. He also will discuss how the crisis in Kenya is adversely affecting these projects in Uganda.
He will update audiences on the Abayudaya primary and high schools, feeding and educating 500 Jewish, Muslim and Christian children studying together in peace. Mr. Siriri will report on the child hunger project, public health education and women’s empowerment programs; on-going classroom, dorm and school kitchen construction; as well as the village micro-finance, crafts, music CD, coffee, dried fruit and eco-tourism self-help projects.
Mr. Siriri is visiting as part of a national speaking tour sponsored by U.S.-based Kulanu, Inc. Kulanu (the Hebrew word for “All of Us”) is a tax-exempt organization dedicated to welcoming lost and dispersed remnants of the Jewish people and helping them become connected to the larger Jewish world. Kulanu works with these communities to enhance their Jewish knowledge and practice. Kulanu also provides support to communities who have chosen Judaism in the modern era. Kulanu encourages research, contacts, visits, education and local problem solving in communities in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America.
Kulanu, has been working side by side with the leaders of the Abayudaya community for twelve years. In 2007, Kulanu helped the community drill its first water well. Previously, Kulanu worked with the Abayudaya to install nine large water reservoir catchment tanks and an underground cistern. It is hoped that the well will produce at a high enough rate to fill the catchment tanks and cistern during the dry season.
Other recent Abayudaya/Kulanu projects have included connecting the main Abayudaya village to national grid electricity, and the creation of the Mirembe Kawomera coffee project, which has brought together 558 Jewish, Christian and Muslim farmers in a cooperative to produce fair-trade certified coffee. Mirembe Kawomera means “delicious peace” in the Ugandan language, Luganda, and the sweet, nutty coffee can be purchased from Thanksgiving Coffee http://www.thanksgivingcoffee.com/