Letter from the President (from the Winter-Spring 2012 issue of KulanuNews)

image: Harriet Bograd wearing a Cameroonian dress, a gift from the Beth Yeshourun community of Cameroon

Harriet Bograd wearing a Cameroonian dress,
a gift from the Beth Yeshourun community of Cameroon
Photo by Viviane Topp, 2012

Dear Friends,

This issue of KulanuNews highlights the Lembas of Zimbabwe and Kulanuís growing involvement with the community. Kulanu leaders have maintained relationships with Lemba leaders for some years. Recently, however, we have taken a more active role in supporting Lemba leaders in Zimbabwe in an attempt to encourage a resurgence of Jewish life there.

Over the years, Lemba leaders from Zimbabwe and South Africa have claimed Jewish descent and pointed to Lemba religious observances as proof of their origins. Their claims were generally ignored by Jewish religious leaders. However, with advanced technology, the community has found a way to substantiate its claims. As noted by Professor Tudor Parfitt in the Spring, 2010 issue of KulanuNews, and again in Sandy Leederís article on page 4 of this issue, research studies have identified the priestly Cohen gene in more than 50% of all males in the Lemba Bubha priestly clan. This figure is the same or a little higher than the percentage for Cohanim (priests) in Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jewish groups around the world.

While we rejoice with our co-religionists in Africa who feel vindicated, we are equally sad that their detachment from mainstream Jewish life over many centuries and their need for secrecy regard-ing their religious observances have led to a loss of knowledge of and involvement in the Lemba heritage by the young. It has also led to the targeting of the Lemba by messianic and evangelical Christians eager to gain advantage and convert Jews

Today, we must report that the community is at risk of losing knowledge of their special rituals and observances as well as their connection to their Jewish roots. It is only with determination and attention that Lemba leaders can hope to reverse this trend. Kulanu supports the efforts of Zimbabwean Lemba to help turn detachment to commitment. With this goal in mind, we have included three articles by Lemba leader Modreck Zvakavapano Maeresera in an attempt to educate the worldwide Jewish community about Lemba customs and practices. Sandy Leeder has provided additional historic information. We are hoping to rouse the Jewish community to assist us in this mission.

Our first goal is publicity. This issue of KulanuNews is the first installment. The second goal is a commitment to help Lemba leaders develop a Jewish cyber learning program. This program was initiated this fall. We have committed Kulanu funds for the building of the first Lemba synagogue and we have already acquired a Torah , which sits in Jerusalem awaiting completion of the synagogue and the training of Lemba Torah readers.

We hope Kulanu supporters around the world will help make the resurgence of Jewish life in Zimbabwe a reality.