In First, a Ugandan-Jewish Wedding in Israel

Bride and groom are members of the Abayudaya community, which is not officially recognized by the Jewish state but is by Conservative and Reform movements

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
Rivkah Nabulo and Rabbin Asiimwe during the wedding ceremony at Kehilat Moreshet Avraham in Jerusalem, January 4, 2020.
Rivkah Nabulo and Rabbin Asiimwe during the wedding ceremony at Kehilat Moreshet Avraham in Jerusalem, January 4, 2020.Credit: Tammy Gottlieb
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

The first-ever Israeli wedding of Ugandan Jews took place on Saturday at a Conservative synagogue in Jerusalem.

The bride and groom – Rivkah Nabulo, 23, and Rabbin Asiimwe, 30 – are both members of the 2,000-strong Abayudaya community, which has yet to be officially recognized by Israel.

Among the largest emerging Jewish communities in the world, the Abayudaya began practicing Judaism about 100 years ago but were only officially converted in recent years – mainly by rabbis affiliated with the Conservative (or Masorti) movement.

Nearly 80 guests attended the wedding, held at Kehilat Moreshet Avraham on Saturday evening. Invitees included prominent Conservative and Reform rabbis in Israel and several young members of the Abayudaya community who are currently participating in educational programs in Israel.

The ceremony was officiated by Rabbi Andy Sacks, director of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in Israel and a leading advocate of the Abayudaya community.

The event “was a true demonstration of the beauty and acceptance of Jews of Uganda by the pluralistic Jewish world, whose representatives turned out to show their love and support,” Sacks told Haaretz.

Members of the local Conservative and Reform communities mobilized within a matter of days to organize the catering, the klezmer band, the wedding attire and even a ring for the bride. Both Nabulo and Asiimwe were students during the fall semester at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Rivkah Nabulo and Rabbin Asiimwe standing under the chuppah during the wedding ceremony at Kehilat Moreshet Avraham, Jerusalem, January 4, 2020. Credit: Tammy Gottlieb

The bride returned to Uganda on Sunday, while the groom will remain in Jerusalem to spend another semester at the school. They were persuaded by leaders of the Conservative movement to hold a proper Jewish ceremony in Israel before Nabulo returned to Uganda, where weddings are known to be prohibitively expensive.

The bride and groom have known each other for seven years and began dating two years ago. “It was a wonderful, wonderful wedding,” Asiimwe said.

After he completes his program at the Conservative Yeshiva, Asiimwe plans to enroll in a rabbinical studies program run by the movement either in Israel or the United States. His wife, he said, will work in Uganda as a Jewish educator.

Among those delivering blessings to the couple under the chuppah was David Breakstone, vice chairman of the Jewish Agency. “I hope this will open the way and open the path for other members of your community to be welcome here by the entire country, the entire society, and not only here in this room,” he said.

Rabbi Andy Sacks, director of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, officiating at the wedding of Rivkah Nabulo and Rabbin Asiimwe in Jerusalem, January 4, 2020.Credit: Tammy Gottlieb

The Interior Ministry does not recognize the Abayudaya as Jewish and regularly denies entry visas to members of the community. A petition challenging a recent ministry decision that barred a member of the community from immigrating to Israel is pending a ruling at the High Court of Justice.

Asiimwe led the first – and to date only – Birthright group from Uganda on a 10-day trip to Israel, in the summer of 2018. His subsequent request to study at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem was initially rejected, but that decision was later overturned.

Rabbin Asiimwe signing the marriage contract as Rivkah Nabulo looks on at Kehilat Moreshet Avraham, Jerusalem, January 4, 2020.Credit: Tammy Gottlieb

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