A Black Swazi Jew Defends His People in Hungary

In Budapest as the only World Jewish Congress delegate from Swaziland, where he is the only black Jew, Geoff Ramokgadi wishes he could stay to help change people's minds about the religion he loves.

BUDAPEST – If he could only afford it, Geoff Ramokgadi says he would temporarily transplant himself to Hungary and launch a grassroots drive to eradicate rising anti-Semitism here.

Ramokgadi, a black convert to Judaism, represents one of the smallest Jewish communities of the world: the 14-family-strong Jewish community of the Kingdom of Swaziland.

The 37-year-old former rock musician who last year set up a high school in Swaziland (“It’s known as the Jewish school, but that’s only because I run it,” he says) is one of more than 500 delegates to the plenary assembly of the World Jewish Congress, taking place in the Hungarian capital this week – the only delegate from his remote corner of the world. He is also the only black member of the kingdom’s tiny Jewish community, comprised primarily of former Israelis.

Rather bewildered by the recent surge in anti-Jewish sentiments in Hungary, Ramokgadi says he would like to engage in dialogue with the locals here to figure out what lies behind the trend. “We must sit down the people here and ask them, ‘Why are the Jews being singled out? Where should they go?’” he says. “Yes, Israel is a country for them, but here is where they are born, so why are they being treated like aliens?”  

Walking down the street the other day, recounts Ramokgadi, he encountered two boys who were playing guitar and asked to join them. “They saw my tag and asked if I was Jewish. I told them I was. Then I took out 10 euros and handed it to one of the boys. He was about to cry when I did that. It all starts with changing one person. One person changes another and then you have shalom. This is all I want. If only I had the money, I would come here.”

Romakgadi, who underwent an Orthodox conversion to Judaism at age 14, wears a kippah and is well versed in Hebrew.

“I always loved the Jewish people,” he explains his decision to convert to Judaism at a young age. “It began with reading the Tanach [Bible] as a young boy.”

Asked what issues concern the Jewish community of Swaziland these days, he replied: “There are zero.”

Doron Ritter