Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another

thescroll_header

The Rabbi Runs for Parliament

Dispatch from Uganda

Print Email
Gershom Sizomu at a rally in Uganda.(All photos by the author)

NAMANYONI, UGANDA—Wednesday marked the closing of Uganda’s campaign season, ahead of February 18 elections for president and parliament. The president, Yoweri Museveni, has held power for 24 years, and claims that his police and military units were deployed to “ensure security” during polling and the lengthy hand-counting expected for Saturday. But the mood in and around Namanyoni is festive, all-hands-on-deck. Gershom Sizomu, likely the first and only native-born black African rabbi and the leader of the local Abayudayah community of Ugandan Jews, sees his prospects for a parliamentary seat as better than decent. The outgoing MP, Yahaya Wojje, a Muslim, has floundered in gambling debts in Kampala, the capital, and done nothing for the locals, while Sizomu, with the help of his international friends, has completed two health clinics, several schools, and a number of water towers and wells. He has been telling groups of voters gathered under mango trees or in schoolyards or village elders’ patios that as an MP he can do such things not only for the Jews, but for all the people of Bungokho North district. In return, they cry in support, “Gershom Jou!” which is Swahili for “Gershom Arise!” It sounds a lot like “Gershom Jew!” a rallying chant that wouldn’t be inappropriate, given that Sizomu stands smiling under a crocheted kippa.

In the flat wide expanse of a schoolyard in the valley, Sizomu’s crew erects a platform out of logs and planks, and calls in the services of the Sikimu Fire Sounds sound system, which consists of a generator and a number of gigantic speakers. The screensaver on the DJ’s old laptop shows Sizomu shaking hands with George W. Bush at the White House.

By Wednesday evening, the dusty ground has filled with hundreds of the local villagers, Jews, Muslims, Christians, eager to dance to soukous and cheer on their candidate. Sizomu’s brother J.J. straps on a beat-up red electric guitar, and shortly after, Sizomu grabs the blue one, and, with the backing band, they pluck out some high-pitched melodies, which come through the enormous speakers sounding like rattling aluminum foil. Women are brought on stage to shake their butts. The dust rises and reflects the few headlight beams that occasionally flash across the otherwise dark and moonlit stage. The campaign managers shout, One Uganda! The people call back, One People! And then, Gershom Jou! And the music continues, until someone trips over the power cord running from the generator to the stage, and all is silent in the valley.

Today, Thursday, Sizomu has dispatched his representatives to every corner of the district to knock on doors, distribute flyers of his image (in which he appears in his trademark head covering), and find out how people will be making it to the polls tomorrow. An army of election observers, trained in the last few days by Sizomu’s people, are gathering their lists from the downtown office and steeling themselves to “make noise” at the first sign of foul play. Sizomu’s solicitors number far more than he could possibly receive, so a large part of his day is spent shuttling from different impromptu headquarters, where he can make a kind of retreat to gather himself, take phone calls, and decide where to go next. “The things they ask me for now—water, health clinics, uniforms for school—they are only going to ask me for more in the future,” he observes, before hopping into the back seat of the Surf and heading off to another meeting in the shade of a mango tree.

Print Email

COMMENTING CHARGES
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

WAIT, WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY TO COMMENT?
Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

I NEED TO BE HEARD! BUT I DONT WANT TO PAY.
Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at letters@tabletmag.com. Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

Eric Lehman says:

I hope Mr. Sizomu will do all he can to help LGBT people in his district so that they will be able to live in peace and dignity.

I’ve said that least 919906 times. The problem this like that is they are just too compilcated for the average bird, if you know what I mean

Great job, thanks for the awesome posting. I’m having troubles subscribing to your blogs feed. Thought I’d let you know

Heya i am for the first time here. I came across this board and I find It really helpful & it helped me out much. I hope to provide one thing back and help others such as you helped me.

2000

Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

The Rabbi Runs for Parliament

Dispatch from Uganda

More on Tablet:

Holding Our Tongues

By Heather Rogers — Why aren’t more non-Muslim feminists decrying violence against women in Muslim-majority countries?