BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Gershom Sizomu, the first chief rabbi of the African country of Uganda, will come to Birmingham this weekend to speak about his life and the different ways faith can be practiced.
Sizomu, who also briefly served in the Ugandan Parliament from 2016 to 2021, will be a special guest at different services at Temple Beth-El in Birmingham Friday and Saturday. He will take part in the Kabbalat Shabbat service at 5:45 p.m. Friday, as well as the morning services at 9:30 a.m. Saturday. At 1 p.m. Saturday, he will be part of a special luncheon at the synagogue, where he will talk about his life and work in Uganda.
Rabbi Steven Henkin of Temple Beth-El said the synagogue was lucky enough to book Sizomu while he was on tour of the southeast. Henkin said one reason he and his staff wanted to host Sizomu was to show people the vastness of Judaism.
“Personally, if you look at a lot of the Jewish community in the U.S. and particularly in Birmingham, you see a lot of the same kinds of Judaism,” Henkin said. “It can be easy to forget that there are a lot of strands and variations of Judaism in the world.”
Sizomu grew up in the Jewish community of Abayudaya, located in the eastern part of Uganda. He first attended the Islamic University in Uganda, where he received his bachelor’s degree in education, before graduating from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University in Los Angeles in 2008, later being ordained a rabbi.
According to Tablet, Sizomu is the first African-born Black rabbi in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as the first Jew elected to the Ugandan Parliament. Over the years, he has met with many world leaders, such as former President George W. Bush, as a representative for the Abayudaya. He also oversaw the conversion of 250 Africans to Judaism during a special ceremony in Uganda in 2008.
In addition to his work as a rabbi, Sizomu has also released an album of Ugandan music called “Sing for Joy.”
“What he brings is an amazing story, but a story of his community and his past of becoming a rabbi,” Henkin said. “It’s a very different sense of what Judaism can look like and what Judaism can be.
Henkin hopes his congregation and those who hear from Sizomu will be opened to a new perspective that is rooted in a sense of community.
“I think we have a couple of different goals,” he said. “One is to better understand the diversity of Judaism. I think, two, is to understand that in that diversity is an underlying theme of community and unity as Jews that they might practice differently, but they are still singing the same prayers. We are only as strong as we are together.”
The services are free to the public.