Sabbath at the Abayudaya Temple, Mbale 2.1.13

April 6, 2013 in Scott Montgomery by Roots International

February 1, 2013

Sabbath at the Abayudaya Temple, Mbale 2.1.13

Rabbi Greshom and others at the Abayudaya Temple prior to Shabat service.

After working since 5:00 AM I forced myself to go to service at the Abayudaya temple outside of Mbale, Uganda.  At the last minute I invited two good friends who are volunteering in Mbale from Europe.  Luckily they joined me in town and we started the slow drive up to the temple for their first Shabbat service.  I briefly explained the service on the way there.  I would have gone into more detail had I remembered that there is separate seating for males and females, which meant I would not be able to help them follow along.  Granted I rarely bother to try to follow along myself; instead I simply sing the songs which I know and watch the children sing the ones I do not.

Before the sun sets the service begins with music (guitar and drums) and the songs are a mixture of Luganda and Hebrew.  I wondered how my friends would enjoy it but while I danced around the bema with the children I saw they seemed to be enjoying it.

Halfway through the service an older white man (muzungu muze) entered the synagogue and was given a seat.  He was quite disruptive and interrupted part of the service to address everyone.  I soon realized he was autistic and realized he wasn’t exactly ruining the service.  He began leading the songs and adding dance to the service and eventually yielded to Rabbi’s words to continue the songs at the Kiddish. (the social gathering after service)

After talking with the rabbi I learned that the man’s name was Benjamin and he is Canadian by nationality and had recently travelled from South Africa.  He arrived at the temple a day prior travelling alone and with little to no money.  He learned prior to Shabbat the plane ticket he had for travelling to Nairobi was for last week and had past.  Therefore there was a lot of confusion on what would be done in the coming days for him.  There is a guest house at the temple, but after only one day he was already starting to test other people’s patience.

Before and during the Kiddish, Benjamin told lengthy and detailed stories of his travels to temples around the world and of people he had met along the way.  It was interesting to observe everyone’s patience and politeness shown to him.  To his benefit, due to the culture of respect to elders in Africa he was allowed to speak and speak without any ill feelings shown toward him.  For the most part, here there is no awareness of mental handicaps or ailments, but instead people are just explained as ‘mad’.  It’s possible he can have an impact on the average person’s attitude towards others whose minds operate differently.  He certainly showed his value and contributions.  In the end it was a blessing to have his love and enthusiasm, which was much more important than his social differences.

Before Benjamin was finished telling stories and singing, I said goodbye to Rabbi Graehom, mama Zipora, and their daughter Neva.  Within another week I would be travelling to South Sudan and may not be back for some months’ time.  My friends enjoyed the service so much and were very interested in learning more.  I felt proud hearing that from those friends who, as do I, have low expectations and have found little value in most religious services.

On Sunday after following up, I learned that Benjamin left as quickly as he had arrived and it was still unclear how where he had come from or where he was headed.  If an autistic man can travel through Uganda alone without much trouble, let’s trust he will be okay at his next destination.

Shabat Shalom,

Scott Montgomery