Madagascar in the News

Our work in Madagascar has caught the attention of the Jewish press. Deborah Josefson’s JTA article has been picked up by dozens of news sources worldwide. It has even been translated into Spanish (twice), French, and Norwegian.
Elysha Netsarh of Madagascar, Kulanu's 2016 speaker.

Elysha Netsarh of Madagascar, Kulanu’s 2016 speaker.


In October we will welcome Elysha Netsarh to the USA from Madagascar as she headlines the Kulanu 2016 speaking tour. Want to hear Elysha speak at your synagogue, school, university, or other institution? Find out more here or send us an inquiry!

YouTube Updates

We have been busy updating our YouTube channel. Stop by @kulanuvideo to check out our newly updated playlists that include videos about the various Jewish communities that Kulanu works with around the world. Find out more

Interns and Volunteers

This summer we are continuing Kulanu’s summer internship program.  Meet our two interns for Summer 2016!

Job Opening

Thanks and best wishes to Evan Davidoff, who has moved on from Kulanu to a full-time position at Jewish Veg. We now have a job opening for a new Programming and Development Coordinator! Based out of our New York office, this 3-4 day per week position requires skills in organizational and resource development, marketing, volunteer and office management, and program coordination. This is a vital position within Kulanu’s infrastructure and offers an exciting career development opportunity for an experienced and qualified candidate. Please share this job opening with people who might do great work for Kulanu!


Announcing the 2016 Kulanu-Madagascar Speaking Tour!

Elysha Netsarh of Madagascar, Kulanu's 2016 speaker.

Elysha Netsarh of Madagascar, Kulanu’s 2016 speaker.

Dear friends,

Kulanu is excited to announce our 2016 Kulanu-Madagascar speaking tour. Yes, Madagascar! We met our speaker, Elysha Netsarh, during our journey to that far-away island country off the east coast of Africa. We were immediately struck by Elysha’s outgoing personality, her intellect, and her command of English, as she interpreted for us from her native Malagasy language and French.
Please join us in welcoming Elysha on her first trip to North America. Her multi-media presentation will include videos of the celebration of the conversions of members of the Madagascar Jewish community and the joyous Jewish weddings that followed. Through fabulous pictures and music that will accompany her presentation, audiences of all ages will learn about the fascinating little-known country of Madagascar, populated by a warm vibrant people challenged by poverty, and home to an emerging Jewish community that will continue to grow and thrive with our recognition.
We are requesting your help in identifying possible venues for this year’s Kulanu-Madagascar speaking tour which will run October 26th to December 5th, 2016. Schedules fill up fast, so please act soon to reserve your spot this fall.
This is an opportunity to make a special multilayered contribution — educating your community about the Jews of Madagascar, helping the Malagasy Jewish community grow their relationships with the wider world, and providing support for Madagascar and around the world.
Click here to inquire about booking your event now!
About Elysha Netsarh
Elysha, a researcher and teacher who earned a PhD in plant chemistry at the University of Paris, was raised in Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital city. At a young age, she became interested in probing her country’s history, as well as the history of her own family, who, in response to colonial pressures, practiced Christianity along with the majority of the country’s residents. When her grandfather revealed the family’s Jewish origins, she began to study Judaism in earnest. Her formal conversion in May is the culmination of her search for identity, the fulfillment of a “permanent spiritual thirst.”
As a leader of the Jewish community of 150 people deeply committed to Jewish practice, Elysha is in the process of preparing a Hebrew-Malagasy prayer book and compiling a Hebrew-Malagasy Chumash. The distinctive headscarf she wears elicits questions from students and colleagues at the University of Antananarivo, allowing her to share her Jewish principles as a counselor for young people about to embark on careers.

Married to a researcher on soil management, Elysha has high hopes for her new-born community, as she contemplates establishing a Hebrew school for children and inaugurating chevruta (partnered) study of Jewish texts.

About the Kulanu-Madagascar Speaking Tour
Members of the Jewish community in Madagascar live Jewish lives, studying Torah and Hebrew, and observing mitzvot, Shabbat, and holidays. In May, Kulanu sent a delegation to Madagascar. . Our delegation included a bet din (rabbinic court) of three Orthodox rabbis who supervised the conversions of more than 120 candidates. After the conversions, a dozen couples  had Jewish weddings ceremonies under the chuppah and happy celebrations. During our stay, Kulanu also organized an international symposium co-sponsored by Florida International University. Professor Tudor Parfitt gave the keynote address, while  Malagasy speakers discussed the historic roots of a people who, they demonstrated, may be an offshoot of ancient Israel. All of these historic events were videotaped by two filmmakers who will produce a documentary. To learn more about this community, please visit

The 2016 Kulanu-Madagascar Speaking Tour will run from October 26 through December 5 in the United States and possibly Canada. Click here to inquire about booking an event.Please share this announcement with your networks, including your local organizational leader or event programmer! If you are outside of the U.S. or Canada, please pass this announcement along to your American and Canadian friends and colleagues. Thank you so much!

What is required of host locations?
Please know that you are welcome to seek co-sponsors to share your event. Synagogues of all denominations, Jewish community centers, Jewish and secular schools and universities, and other groups have all joined together to co-sponsor Kulanu speakers. Kulanu speakers have been welcomed at Brown, Cal State, Howard, Washburn, Wellesley, Northeastern, and Yale Universities. Within universities, many departments have co-sponsored, including history, religion, music, Jewish studies, African studies, campus ministries, international development, and diversity offices.
Here is what we ask of event hosts:
  • An honorarium of $1,450 per event, which includes travel expenses. (Note: We are offering a $200 discount to those who reserve a date and pay a $250 deposit by July 31, 2016.)
  • A primary contact to be responsible for the event and for Elysha while she is in your city.
  • Accommodations, meals, and local transportation for the speaker (home hospitality is great!)
If you would like to host the speaker, what should you do next?
Complete our online inquiry form to let us know of your interest and how to reach you. If you are able, please list three possible dates between Wed., Oct. 26 to Mon, Dec. 5, 2016 that might work for you.
Please consult our online calendar to see which dates have already been assigned to other groups, and which dates have tentative requests.
Check out Kulanu’s online Event Planning Kit (available early June) to get an idea of what is involved in hosting a successful speaking tour event.
We look forward to hearing from you. Please feel free to pass this on to other groups that might be interested in hosting Elysha Netsarh this fall. Thank you!

Harriet Bograd, President

Kulanu, Inc
165 West End Ave, 3R

New York, NY 10023

Madagascar Update: Homeward bound

Final good byes in Madagascar

Final good byes in Madagascar

Today we leave and head home back to our lives. There are more tearful goodbyes and more wonderful gifts and off we go the the airport. For most of us the destination is New York for a few others it is Boston,Philadelphia and far off Seattle. We have 22 hours ahead of us. The route takes us from Antananarivo to Johannesburg and then home.

On the plane I think all of us are trying to put it in prospective. We helped found a new Jewish community and started them on their journey through history. Where will that journey take them.? Who can tell? Will one of the children we converted become a great scholar or spiritual leader who will bring needed light to the Jewish people? Will more and more people in Madagascar become Jewish so that it becomes one of the world’s important Jewish communities? Will Judaism grow in Africa so that these now small and struggling communities come to make up majority of the Jewish people? Will Madagascar become our place of refuge from some persecution yet to be?

Well the work goes on and Rabbi Delouya and his sister are talking about spending a month there over the Summer and all of us are at least thinking of coming back. -Rabbi Gerald Sussman

Madagascar Update: A Relaxing Day

So far the trip has been constant hard work. The Beit Din has been putting in 12 hour days. Some of us have come more than half way around the world to go no further than the front door of our hotel.  We looked forward to Monday which was to be a day of touring.  Some of us went on an organized trip to the lemur reserve. It was an interesting trip which took us past the vast slums of Antanamarivo where housing seemed to spring from a waterlogged marsh and people lived in dread of the flooding caused by periodic cyclones. The lemur park was a delightful  nature reserve sponsored by France and Japan. Its inhabitants were ex-pets liberated from lives of ignominy as pets to the relative dignity and steady food supply of the reserve.

The lemurs were delightful. Their seemingly gliding through the air was quite remarkable. They even stopped to play with my wife’s cane.
Gate of the Rova. Notice the symbol on the left tower.

Gate of the Rova. Notice the symbol on the left tower.

The next stop was not one of delight but one we where we felt lost. It was the Rova, the historic palace complex of the pre-colonial royalty.  This site is dominated be the Queen’s palace, a huge stone structure that can be seen throughout the city. It was built in the mid-nineteenth century and compares quite well with European royal palaces.  It was the prime repository of Malagasy tradition and culture. On a windy night in 1995 the palace was set on fire.  The wind carried the fire so that all of the structures were destroyed. No one knows who set the fire and for what reason other that than that it has something to do with politics.  It has been partially destroyed but the sense of loss remains strong.

One of the unusual features of society is the centrality of circumcision. An uncircumcised male is an object of contempt. The circumcised penis is also the symbol of royal power and appears on the gate of the Rova, one wonders what would have happened had the Jews been less modest. Tomorrow we are looking forward to the conference.
-Rabbi Gerald Sussman

Madagascar: Serious Business

Conference Attendees in Madagascar

Conference Attendees in Madagascar

Tuesday, May 17th was the day of the long awaited symposium. One of the purposes of the symposium was to provide a platform for an idea which is commonplace in Madagascar, but virtually unknown anywhere elsewhere (i.e. the Israelite ancestry of the Malagasy people). The panelists were a distinguished group which included Pastor Tolatra Ratery, Prince Nidriana Rabiolina, Heri Manantsoa Rariojosen, Professor Tudor Parfit, Henri Randrianasolonjana, Professor Harmon the head of the Ellie School and MM Vololoniaina Razobe.

The first speakers were especially impressive in both their demeanor and in what they had to say. They looked distinguished wearing the sashes which are a sign of Malagasy nobility. Heri wore traditional Malagasy clothing. They cited their own careful research which showed amazing similarities between Malagasy and Jewish cultures. They pointed to language, legend and practices.

They pointed out similarities between traditional Malagasy life and Judaism. For example traditional Malagasy culture places the great emphases on circumcision. The seventh day was a traditional holy day. According to the Malagasy lunar calendar the new year came out in what in our secular calendar would be March-April corresponding to the month of Nisan. According to the Torah Nisan is the first month of the year which reflects the idea that the world was created in Nisan. They told of the numerous linguistic similarities, for example Maariv the Hebrew word for the evening prayer means evening in Malagasy. There were also similarities of what may be called taboos. Parts of traditional Malagasy society prohibited pork and crustaceans as well. A Malagasy ceremony corresponding to the biblical Bikkurim the offering of the first fruits was discussed as well. There are numerous traditions connecting Madagascar to the biblical Ophir from which King Solomon fetched material needed to build the holy temple. There are many stories of Israelites or even Jews in Madagascar. Indeed it was surprising how many people told me about villages of Jews or other encounters with Jews that seem to be unknown to anyone but the Malagasies.

Dr. Tudor Parfit distinguished Professor at Florida International University delivered the keynote address. He encouraged the other in their research and spoke of the importance of their quest neither denying or confirming the theory of the Israelite origins of the Malagasy people.

The other speakers addressed social issues of Malagasy society such as the need for unity and the importance of practical steps to bring about progress as well as the role of women in Malagasy society. Distinguished scholars connected by Skype also gave their greetings. There was also a musical presentation of beautiful Psalms sung by a a recent convert and his wife.

It was a full day and a beautiful event. Though the theory of the Israelite origin of the people of Madagascar is not not generally accepted in academic circles the material presented gave all of us food for thought and raised questions which will require considerable examination.

Madagascar Update: 12 Jewish Weddings!

The Jewish Brides of Madagascar. The Jewish community in Ghana gave them Shabbat Challah covers as wedding gifts. Photo courtesy of Boni Sussman.

The Jewish Brides of Madagascar. The Jewish community in Ghana gave them Shabbat Challah covers as wedding gifts. Photo courtesy of Boni Sussman.

It would hardly go into the Guinness Book of Records but it went into our personal book of records. Sunday the rabbis participated in twelve weddings. The married couples who converted now wanted chuppahs and kiddushin Jewish weddings to reconsecrate their relationships
How does one conduct 12 weddings at the same time while keeping each one personal and intimate? We decided to put up three chuppahs.  Rabbi Neuman who is also an outstanding cantor would chant the introduction and the joyous seven blessings. The rings and the blessings recited when the rings are given would be conducted individually for each couple by Rabbis Neuman, Klein, and Sussman.
The air was filled with excitement and joy, the brides, even if some of them had been married in secular marriages for many years, even if they were grandmothers, glowed with happiness in their beautiful white gowns. Nelly Rabinowitz gathered the brides giving jewelry and make up and making sure their hair was just right. The grooms were full of excitement wearing their very best.  The grooms were called up to stand under the Chupahs.  The Chazan began to sing.  A choir made up of the children of the couples who were being married proceeded down the steps singing Shalom Aleichem. They were followed by the procession of the 12 brides who joined their grooms under the Chuppahs for the ceremony. The blessings were recited the groom broke the glass, actually a plastic cup which Kulanu vice-president Bonita Sussman had brought from the US for the purpose.  The crowd sang Mazal Tov u’Siman Tov and wished each other much joy.
The weddings were followed by a lovely reception which featured a marvelous wedding cake which was especially baked by Ashrey an outstanding local pastry chef and also president of the Jewish community. There were speeches in which Ashrey thanked us for all we had done for his country’s Jewish community, we thanked them for all that they had accomplished.  This was one of the moments that made it all feel worthwhile.
-Rabbi Gerald Sussman #kulanumadagascar

Madagascar Update: A Perfect Day

Today was a perfect day. It was the day of the long awaited trip to the Mikvah, completing the conversions that had been the object of such arduous rabbinic labor. The community leaders had after much toil found the perfect spot. So we got up early and made our way to the local bus station. It was a chaos of commerce and clamor as trucks the local mini-buses taxis and pedestrians clogged the narrow streets. We were happy to see a small fleet of these vans waiting for us along my with our Malagasy friends.

We left the city and dove through the beautiful countryside past hilltop villages crowned with church steeples and local windowless cottages topped with thatched roofs, along with lovely homes, we passed rice paddies and busy market towns, and people going about their business walking to destination unknown to us. After around an hour and a half we turned off the two lane road to a well potholed unpaved track that ran alongside a beautiful river.
After several miles we reached our destination, a particularly beautiful spot on the riverbank. A small tent like enclosure had been set up, it reached into the water so that the candidate could disrobe in the enclosure and immerse in the river water with completely privacy. The Men went in first they lined up outside and one by one entered the enclosure where the three Rabbis of the Bet Din witnessed their immersion, one of the Rabbis stayed in river water the entire time to reassure and assist the candidates. The woman followed the same procedure except that their immersion was supervised by a ”Mikvah lady” who certified to the Rabbis that the immersion was done properly. After several hours all of the men, women and children reentered the bus transformed into full fledged Jews ready to take there place in history.
-Rabbi Gerald Sussman

The small tent which enabled privacy during the conversion.

The small tent which enabled privacy during the conversion.