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Bruce Poinsette of The Skanner News
Published: 14 November 2012

Joan Levine displays items that will be available at Saturday's fundraiser for Abayudaya schools

Portlanders will have the chance to learn about the diversity of the global Jewish community when Aaron Kintu Moses comes to town this weekend to present on the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda.

"People have the idea of Jewish people as not ethnically diverse but there are Jewish communities all over the world and this is a Black Jewish community," says Joan Levine of P'nai Or of Portland, the group sponsoring Moses' visit.

Levine sits on the P'nai Or of Portland Tikkun Olam Committee. Tikkun Olam is Hebrew for "repairing the world".

The group selects two, one international and one local, social action projects each year. This is the second year in a row that it will be spotlighting the Abayudaya.

Moses, a leader of the 1,000 member community in Mbale, Uganda, will be sharing the story of the Abayudaya's evolution, from the struggle to maintain their identity to the development of two interfaith school projects.

He is the education director of the Abayudaya schools. Of the 700 students, about half are Jewish while the other half is split between Muslims and Christians.

Moses is also part of Kulanu ("All of Us"), a nonprofit that supports isolated and emerging Jewish communities throughout the world.

On Saturday he'll lead a talk, multimedia presentation and musical performance on the education, nutrition, health and economic development programs supported by Kulanu.

The event is a fundraiser. Part of the proceeds will go to Abayudaya schools. This includes teacher salaries and the nutrition program. In addition, donations go to the distribution of AFRIpads, which are cotton, washable menstrual pads, to girls in the schools.

According to Levine, this helps encourage education by giving girls more of an opportunity to participate in school. Without the pads, she says girls were missing up to a week each month because of bleeding.

In addition to the schools project, the rest of the proceeds will go to setting up a bead bank. Selling beads is common source of income but many of the poorest Abayudaya women can't afford the initial supplies to start a business. Levine says the bank will give allow these women to borrow enough supplies to get started and hopefully sell enough jewelry to pay back their loans by the end of the year.

Levine hopes this event will not just inspire attendees to donate, but will also show them how much they have in common with the Abayudaya.

"I hope attendees come away with an appreciation that this tiny community so far away from us is trying to do the same thing we're doing here, which is to develop projects, industry and good education for their children and peace among their neighbors," she says. "We're suffering economically as a country right now and they have very little there. It demonstrates how people can come together and develop livelihood, family life and good ethics."

Moses will be presenting "The Abayudaya Jews of Uganda" on Nov. 17 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Congregation Neveh Shalom. P'nai Or is also offering Abayudaya Shabbaton services on Nov. 16 and 17 at St. Mark Presbyterian Church. The ceremonies will be held from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday (this session includes a potluck lunch).

For more information, go to www.pnaiorpdx.org.

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