Harare Synagogue a Reality (August 2013)

image: Modreck and Brenda Maeresera with their children (Photo by Elaine Berg)

Modreck and Brenda Maeresera with their children
(Photo by Elaine Berg)

The Lemba Jews have always lived in small isolated villages. But today, just as in the rest of the world, the young and educated have begun to leave rural areas and migrate to the city in search of employment and better opportunities. In Zimbabwe, this has meant the Lemba are moving to Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe.

Because of the need to cater to this large and expanding Lemba population in the city, it became clear that we needed to create a second congregation in Harare in addition to the Great Zimbabwe Synagogue we are building in Mapakomhere in the Lemba heartland. ?Beginning in May 2013, we rented a house in the Bluffhill area of Harare*. The rent is US$800 per month. Donations (external contributions) cover the cost of the rent, security deposit and utility bills and paid for the furnishings. The house is serving as a synagogue, a communal gathering place, apartment for the synagogue president, who is currently leading services, as well as for guests/teachers who visit.?

The house has two kosher kitchens, one is milchick/parve and the other is meat, enabling us to follow kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) and separate milk and meat in all utensils, plates, pots etc. Ritual slaughter, quite similar to rabbinic standards, is also conducted on site. Our intention is that meals will be available for guests everyday and at all times of day. In addition to the kitchens, there are three furnished guest bedrooms in the building and two unfurnished guest rooms for visitors and volunteer teachers. ?

The synagogue building has a spacious fenced–in yard. In the near future we plan to plant a garden and start a chicken project, which we hope will generate income to support the day-to-day running of the synagogue. We also have a room, which serves as a library. To date the library has only two shelves and around two dozen books. But we have scores of teaching materials from our volunteer cyber-learning teachers available on computers and memory chips, which are translated into Shona, our local language. The synagogue also serves as a religious school for the Lemba community. We have appointed a committee that deals with finance, maintenance, education and liturgy, which includes the promotion of Hebrew literacy.?

image: House rented in central Harare, Zimbabwe by Lemba community with support from Kulanu, Inc. (Photo by Elaine Berg)

House rented in central Harare, Zimbabwe by Lemba community with support from Kulanu, Inc. The large house is on 1.5 acres of land and is being used as residence for community leaders, guest house for visiting teachers, volunteers, and travelers, space for Shabbat and holidays services, study center, community center
(Photo by Elaine Berg)

Since the beginning of May, we have been meeting for Friday evening services. Since July 13, we have been meeting on Shabbat mornings as well. Offering services on Friday and Saturdays make it easier for congregants to attend at least one service. To date an average of 30 people attend each service and we expect the numbers to grow. In time, we believe many families will stay in the house throughout Shabbat for socializing, learning and discussions on the weekly parsha (Torah portion of the week). This will enhance the excitement of being alive and Jewish in Zimbabwe.

Because of modern and foreign influences, Lemba traditional education has been on the decline. The synagogue community is in an intense catch up mode, which began even before the building was rented. This was due to the generosity of Jewish teachers from Israel and elsewhere who volunteered their time and teaching materials.? Our cyber learning program has been in existence for almost two years.

The Harare synagogue, together with the Great Zimbabwe Synagogue in Mapakomhere, signifies the fulfillment of a Lemba dream: the dream of having our own places of worship. We hope to lure back those who have been seduced by Islamic and Christian missionaries because of the lack of Jewish places of worship. It is our expectation that in the future we will be opening other chavurot in the suburbs of the city. We are not finished. We only have only just begun.

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*Initially Kulanu board members Sandy Leeder and Jack Zeller paid for the house out of their own pockets. This summer Kulanu assumed responsibility for all expenses.

Kulanu is assisting the Lemba Jews of Zimbabwe to modernize their circumcision implements and techniques. We are interested in finding volunteer Mohels who are able to go to Zimbabwe to perform this great Mitzvah. If you are or know of a trained mohel who can volunteer a week or two of his time in late May 2014, please contact Sandy Leeder: Sandy @ Leeder.com