Jewish Communities in Uganda Celebrate 5 Marriages Before Audience of 1,500

Naomi Namusoosa and Shadrach Mugoya Levi on the morning of their wedding day. Mr. Levi is the spiritual leader of the Namutumba Abayudaya, a Jewish community in Uganda. (Credit: Merissa Nathan Gerson)
Naomi Namusoosa and Shadrach Mugoya Levi on the morning of their wedding day. Mr. Levi is the spiritual leader of the Namutumba Abayudaya, a Jewish community in Uganda. (Credit: Merissa Nathan Gerson)

Seven years ago, Shadrach Mugoya Levi drove three hours from his rural village of Magada in the Namutumba District of Uganda to find a woman named Naomi. His friends had insisted he meet her. When he arrived at her house, her mother answered the door and said: “No, my daughter is too young.”

“At first I feared him,” said Naomi Namusoosa of that introduction. She was 16 at the time, and he was 21.

Mr. Levi, an orphan who helped raise himself and two of his younger siblings up from poverty, was looking for a wife. “A good woman, someone who will be so nice to me, a good listener, and a cook who will not give me a hard time,” he said.

“He was beautiful,” Ms. Namusoosa said. “By the time I really met him, I saw the way he was talking to me. He was kind.”

Mr. Levi waited for her for three years. Then, in 2013, he returned to formally ask permission to marry Ms. Namusoosa.

Mr. Levi, now 28, is the spiritual leader of the Namutumba Abayudaya, one of nine Jewish communities in Uganda that stem from the conversion roughly 100 years ago of a local leader called Semei Kakungulu, who then created a sect.

On Aug. 8, Gershom Sizomu, a rabbi from the nearby Jewish community at Nabugoye Hill in Mbale, and Yafa Chase, a rabbi from Granby, Mass., married the couple and four other Jewish couples before about 1,500 witnesses, including Abayudaya (the Ugandan term for Jewish people) from the nine communities. The event gathered politicians from the local council, government officials and family and friends of all five couples from throughout the country.

After meeting Ms. Namusoosa, Mr. Levi went to the United States for two years to earn money to pay the dowry promised to his future wife’s family by Ugandan social law. In 2015, he returned with enough that her parents approved.

“O.K.,” Ms. Namusoosa recalled. “I thought, ‘I will go. I love him.’” Because, she said, “He is caring.”

Marriage at first meant joining households and starting a family; talk of a wedding did not come for a few years. Ms. Namusoosa moved with Mr. Levi to his village, where he was soon named successor to Eri Kaidhiwa, then the leader of the Namutumba Abayudaya. Mr. Levi began training, mostly via online conversations from his living room in Uganda, for formal rabbinical ordination through Aleph: Alliance for Jewish Renewal.

“We were getting used to each other,” the bride said. There were other reasons for waiting, including the expense of a wedding and the lack of a properly ordained rabbi to officiate.

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SOURCE: MERISSA NATHAN GERSON  
The New York Times