We were privileged on Monday evening to host a whirlwind 24-hour visit by two young men from Kampala, Uganda: Wanini Esav and Yonatan Katz Lukato. Permit me to share a bit of the background story. At some point shortly after October 27, Yonatan found my son Aaron on Facebook, and then Yonatan shared with me a remarkable request. There existed at that time eight Jewish communities in Uganda, all of them in the eastern part of the country. They were in the process of creating a ninth community in the capital city of Kampala, which is approximately 350K west, and wanted to name it “The Tree of Life”. To say that I was incredibly moved by this loving gesture would be an understatement. I brought this request to my congregation’s leadership and board. They were equally moved, even brought to tears, and unanimously and enthusiastically supported their request. So began a new connection on the other side of the planet.
Fast forward to this summer, where both Esav and Yonatan worked at Camp Ramah in the Poconos. With quite a bit of effort, we were able to bring them to Pittsburgh for Monday evening, where the Kampalan Tree of Life met the Pittsburgh Tree of Life. It was indeed a thrill and my honor to meet both of them, and particularly thrilling for my son, as he and Yonatan have been communicating over these past nine months. They shared the one hundred-year history of the Jewish community in Uganda, which survived near annihilation by the brutal dictator Idi Amin, and continue to grow, numbering 3,000 members in a country of over 40 million citizens. There is no access to Jewish books and materials of any sort. That is why earlier on Monday I welcomed them into the social hall of our synagogue, where we have gathered all the prayer books, Bibles and Religious School texts into one place. We are prepared to make available to them any books that they would like to support their fledgling community which now numbers 80 strong. The sheer numbers of books and materials that we offer for their use overwhelmed them, and confirmed that I knew that all of it would be put to good use. While it is indeed difficult to ship by air freight potentially two pallets of books, we will figure it out and support our newest friends and fellow Jews.
I also shared that it is my dream that one day soon the Pittsburgh Tree of Life will put together a mission to the Kampala Tree of Life, and bring with us a Torah scroll as our gift to them. It was indeed quite an evening: a wonderful balm to continue the process of healing, brought to us by people that we had never met, who reached out in love. May we all be privileged to experience many more of these events.