12/3/07 Update: Here is the word on the street about their Rabbi: "Their rabbi who was in israel last year is studying in Los angeles at the university of judaism. He leads services once or twice a month at shomrei torah in west hills. It is incredible...he does a friday night service where he plays the drums and guitar with his kids and sings the most beautiful melodies to the same prayers. My parents have had them over for shabbat dinner or lunch many times and they really are fascinating people." Ari in LA
Welcome, The eastern Ugandan town of Mbale is home to a small Jewish community, known as Abayudaya, from the Luganda word for Jews. Shalom - welcome in Hebrew - is painted on the wall of the Hadassah infant and elementary school just outside Mbale. It is the only Jewish primary school in the country and caters to its small community. Hands up! Children wave their hands in the air in response to the question: "Who here is Jewish?" Pupils are taught to chant the Hebrew alphabet and can sing the Israeli national anthem. "We teach them that because all Jewish people are connected to the land of Israel," Headmaster Aerron Kintu Moses explains. Music is important to the Abayudaya, who have produced two CDs of religious songs. Warrior The synagogue, in the grounds of the Semei Kakungulu secondary school, was recently constructed. Kakungulu, a warrior, was used by the British to help conquer Uganda. He fell out with the colonialists, settled in Mbale and in 1919 converted to Judaism, without ever having met a Jew. By the time of his death a decade later, he had 2,000 followers. Dressing up The headmaster at the secondary school prepares to pray. The Abayudaya are a tiny minority and few Ugandans even know that they exist. The group have also been through difficult times, particularly in the 1970s when then-President Idi Amin, a Muslim, forbade Jewish observance. Many Abayudaya converted to Christianity or Islam, and numbers dwindled to around 200. School walk The Abayudaya are currently experiencing a revival, with more than 750 members. After years of being off the tourist map, Uganda has greater contact with international Jewry, particularly from the United States. Well-wishers have donated money, and facilities have expanded. Now, Muslim and Christian students walk through the lush green hills to attend the Jewish schools. Convert The community mikvah - a bath for ritual purification - has been used twice in the past three years by foreign rabbis to officially convert 345 Abayudaya to Judaism, including Jeje pictured here. Judaism is not an evangelical religion; Jews normally inherit the faith from their mother. Until the ceremony the Abayudaya were not even considered Jewish in the eyes of world Jewry. Decorated doorway The door of an Abayudaya home, decorated with religious symbols and a mezuzah - a religious parchment attached to doorposts of Jewish houses. Contact with foreign Jews means that the Abayudaya are more knowledgeable about mainstream Jewish beliefs. And they will be even better served when their rabbi returns from Israel, where - thanks to foreign sponsorship - he is attending religious college.Confident Twenty years ago Jewish children, like these, would have been mocked or marginalised. But as the community grows, so does their confidence. As one young man put it: "Being called Jewish used to be an abuse. We even used to fear to say our religion. "But now if you say you are Jewish, people take it as normal. And some even admire you."