What is the Abayudaya Youth Association?
Did you know that Far West has a chapter in Uganda? Well, sort of. The Abayudaya Youth Association, or AYA, is a youth group for Jewish teens in eastern Uganda. AYA guides the Abayudaya’s youths through their journey of adulthood, turning them into responsible people in society by teaching leadership skills, Hebrew, Torah study, and providing counseling. The AYA also helps the youths of this unique community to grow through their ability to become B’nai Mitzvot, searching for and promoting talent in the youth, and through their contribution and service to the community surrounding them.
In 2008 USY and AYA joined together in an international partnership. Thanks to Far West, it has been possible for AYA to host their own Regional Convention for the past four years. This annual Convention brings together over 200 youth? group members from all over the Sub-Saharan region of Africa– Uganda and Kenya. Much like our own convention here, AYA’s convention is a weekend of fun activities and learning. USY’s Tikkun Olam grants also funded a Yeshiva building that AYA built.
Our partnership with the Abayudaya Youth Association is a reminder to us as to what we are really here for as Jews– to help others around us. By partnering with the AYA to help them strengthen their community, and with every single day that they grow and flourish, they are not only securing their place in the future but our place as well.
Watch this video about the partnership between USY and AYA, created by USYer Matthew Renetzky for the first AYA Fundraising Gala in 2014.
History of the Abayudaya Community
The Abayudayan people are a Jewish community in eastern Uganda. Founded in 1919, the Jewish community there is incredibly devoted to their practice, adopting their own version of kashrut and observing Shabbat despite their lack of genetic or historic Jewish ethnicity. “Abayudaya” means the people of Judah: Aba (people) yudaha (of Juda). At an estimated population of 1500 people, the Abayudayan Community is recognized by both the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements and is thriving more day-by-day.
Rabbi Gershom Sizomu is the current spiritual leader of the Abayudayan Jews in Uganda. As a visionary community leader, he chose to attend rabbinical school to better understand ancient and modern Judaism and to bring the Abayudaya into mainstream Judaism. He was awarded a Be’chol Lashon Fellowship in 2003 to attend the 5-year program at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University. After Rabbi Gershom’s ordination in May 2008, he returned to Uganda to help the Abayudaya community to be healthy and strong, both physically and spiritually.
Need a visual? Here’s a video on the History of the Abayudaya community by Rabbi Gershom.