One late night in December, traveler Jay Sand found himself standing on a hill in Uganda with his backpack and guitar asking “Where are the Jews?”
He said he had no idea where to go until he heard singing and looked in a window to find children dancing around a menorah, the candelabra used during Hanukkah. He had arrived during Hanukkah and he had found the Jews.
Sand spoke last night at Hillel about his experiences in Jewish communities around Africa. He showed slides and played music featuring traditional elements and representations found in Jewish communities in Uganda, Ghana and Zimbabwe.
He showed pictures of Jewish stars on the outside of houses and slides of women in Africa making challah, a bread traditionally eaten on the Jewish Sabbath.
“It was an idea brought in from the outside, with the idea that it connects them to what Jews are doing around the world,” Sand said.
Sand found communities which had begun following the Old Testament and converted to Judaism. He talked to people who had over time developed Judaism from their understanding of the Bible Western interpretations found in books and what visitors told them.
He shared some of his discoveries with the audience, and had audience members marching and singing along to participate in prayer and the celebration of Judaism as it is practiced in these various locations.
Sand discussed the development and discovery of Judaism within these communities and the way it has emerged as a blend of cultures and ideas.
“There”s the concept that people throughout time have moved around and shared a lot of culture,” he said. “Each of us is a combination of thousands and tens of thousands of blended beliefs and cultural connections.”
Hillel Major Events Committee Chairman Joel Snyder, an LSA senior, said Sand was invited because there seemed to be an interest in the topic.
“I asked around and people seemed interested. We figured it”d be a great event to try out, especially during black history month, a good way to bring the black communities and Jewish communities together at this school,” he said.
Snyder added that he thought the event was an important opportunity for students and community members because it reached beyond the generalizations, assumptions and stereotypes associated with Africans and Jews.
“I think it”s a really great opportunity to step outside of our own boundaries in however we define ourselves and see the interconnectedness of different people who have shared things we might not have known we”ve shared,” he said.
Engineering senior Javaughn Perkins said he attended the event because he wanted to become more educated about people in Africa. He said he found the speaker profound and the information intriguing.
“I didn”t know there were African black people practicing Judaism in Africa,” he said. “It was kind of weird to see black people wearing the Star of David and singing songs in Hebrew.”