About the Zimbabwe Lemba (community overview)
About the Lemba Community of Zimbabwe
The Lemba Jews of Zimbabwe, who entered Africa via Yemen hundreds or possibly even thousands of years ago, currently number about 150,000 in a country of 14 million people. They live among - and look like - the predominant local Shona tribe in southern Zimbabwe, and speak the Shona language; however, they are actually Jews who have kept their Jewish practices secret from their neighbors. Although they had lost their 'Book' (the Torah, which Lemba oral history says was lost during their journey from Israel to Zimbabwe), to this day the Lemba have been able to maintain their devout religious observances passed down through generations of oral tradition, practices which do mirror Jewish customs and laws (read more in the articles below, or in the 2012 issues of KulanuNews).
Shabbat Service led by Rabson Wuriga (standing),
Modreck Maeresera (seated, left), and William Mhuka (seated, center).
Photo by Sandy Leeder, 2012.
Many writers have recorded the claims of Jewish descent by Lemba leaders from Zimbabwe and South Africa; they have pointed to Lemba religious observances as proof of their origins. However, these claims now appear to have been validated by DNA testing by Dr Karl Skorecki, which identified a priestly "Cohen" gene haplotype in more than 50% of all males in the Bubha clan of the Lemba people (according to oral history, this clan is said to have led the Lemba out of Israel into Yemen and then Africa). This figure is the same or a little higher than the percentage for Cohanim (priests) in Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jewish groups around the world.
The Lemba Jewish community today is experiencing a "Jewish renaissance," and their goals include learning Hebrew and Torah (their "lost book"); the construction of their own synagogues; and engaging mainstream Judaism. To learn more, check out the articles and multi-media resources below.
Interested in helping the Lemba Jews (re-)connect with the global Jewish community and maintain their ties with their Jewish roots? Get involved with Kulanu, Inc!
Contact Sandy Leeder, Kulanu's Regional Coordinator for the Zimbabwe Lemba, to find out what YOU can do to make an impact in the life of this fascinating Jewish community.
Kulanu accepts donations toward the Lemba community programs, and for their synagogue. Click here to read the proposal for the "Great Zimbabwe Synagogue" project. Naming opportunities are also available; please contact Harriet Bograd to inquire.
Lemba Articles & Links
- Harare Lemba Synagogue Newsletter Modreck Maeresera et al (August, 2016)
- The Tzidkaniot: Righteous Women of Kulanu Communities Bonita Sussman (2016)
- The BCI - Kulanu Partnership: A Source of Learning, Joy, and Power Rabbi Barbara Aiello (2016)
- Aljazeera discusses Lemba synagogue quoting, Sandy, Modreck and Rabson. Kulanu is mentioned too (external link)
- Lemba guitarist Hamlet Zhou takes an interest in his African-Jewish heritage for a new album (external link)
- What?! A Passover Seder in a rural African village in ZIMBABWE? Nili Salem B'Simcha, April 2015 (external link - published in The Jewish Journal website)
- "A Wandering Jew in a World of Wandering People" blog by Sara Eisen, Kulanu volunteer teacher in Harare (2014-2015)
- Zimbabwe with Love Mickey Feinberg (2014)
- Our Month with the Lemba of Zimbabwe Elaine and Irwin Berg (2014)
- From the Inside: American Pioneers in Harare Modreck Maeresera (2014)
- What’s Happening in Africa: Cameroon, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Zimbabwe Judy Manelis (2013)
- Harare Synagogue a Reality Modreck Maeresera (2013)
- Passover in Mapakomhere, Zimbabwe - Some Highlights Sandy Leeder (2012)
- An Insider’s View of the Zimbabwe Seder Modreck Zvakavapano Maeresera (2012)
- Letter from the President Harriet Bograd (from the Winter-Spring 2012 issue of KulanuNews)
- The Lemba/Jewish Community of Zimbabwe: Its History, Jewish Practice and Challenges Modreck Zvakavapano Maeresera (2012)
- Kashrut (Dietary Laws) Among The Lemba Modreck Zvakavapano Maeresera (2012)
- The Lemba to Build a Synagogue Near Great Zimbabwe Sandy Leeder (2012)
- Can Cyberlearning Save the Future of Lemba Judaism? Modreck Zvakavapano Maeresera (2012)
- Rabbi Gershom Sizomu Visits the Lemba in South Africa (2010)
- Coming Out: A Visit to the Zimbabwe Lemba Tudor Parfitt (2010)
- Thousands of Books for Zimbabwe Lemba Relly Coleman (2009)
- Wuriga Cites Progress Among the Lemba Karen Primack (2006)
Kulanu-Lemba Project Proposals
- Kulanu Proposal for the Harare Lemba Synagogue and Guest House September, 2013
- Kulanu Proposal for the Great Zimbabwe Synagogue February, 2013
Zimbabwe Lemba Multi-Media Resources
- Nili and Keith Visit Zimbabwe for Passover Nili Salem B'Simcha and Rabbi Keith Flaks, April 2015
- "Lemba Jews of Zimbabwe" videos - playlist on Kulanu's YouTube channel
- Kulanu-Lemba Slideshow from the 2013 Kulanu-Lemba Speaking Tour
- Kulanu-Lemba Speaking Tour photo album - photos from Modreck Maeresera's February 2013 tour of the United States
- Harare Lemba Synagogue photo album Irwin and Elaine Berg, 2013
- Harare Minyan & Guest House photo album May 2013
- Passover with the Lemba of Mapakomhere Sandy Leeder, April 2012
- Of Sacred Times, Rituals, and Customs: Oral Traditions of the Lemba Jews of Zimbabwe Rabson Wuriga (2012) - Follow the link to purchase the e-book for your Kindle, or find it on iBook.com or BN.com!