The Lemba in Zimbabwe: Supporting Each Other and Overcoming Obstacles (2016)
By Modreck Maeresera and Colleagues
All photos courtesy of the Lemba Jewish Community
Digging trenches for the irrigation project
Editor’s Note: Kulanu has been supporting the Harare Lemba Synagogue in Zimbabwe since 2013. This Lemba community which descends from ancient Israel has proudly embraced rabbinic Judaism and, though in the midst of a very difficult environmental emergency (a drought and political and economic crisis), its people have continually worked very hard to overcome mounting obstacles. This past year we sent an appeal for help with the emergency food program to Kulanu’s supporters—thank you for all your support. Thank you to Modreck Maeresera and his colleagues from the Harare Lemba Synagogue for this most recent update as presented in the synagogue’s newsletter.
Harare Lemba Synagogue Newsletter
Volume 1 Issue #2 November 2016
E-mail: hararelembasynagogue@gmail .com
Address: #1 Heathrow Close, Bluffhill,
This newsletter is our official publication through which we plan to communicate with our membership, the Lemba community worldwide, our sponsors, our friends and well-wishers so that we keep all of you up friends and well-wishers so that we keep all of you up friends and well-wishers so that we can keep all of you updated about what’s going on at the Harare Lemba Synagogue. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Kulanu, our donors, and everybody who has contributed, and is contributing, to make the HLS dream a reality. We started the HLS to create a community for the Lemba who migrated from the villages to the cities for one reason or another. Back in the villages we live in closely-knit communities but when we come to the cities we are like fish that have been taken out of water. Now we have somewhere where we can meet, interact, and practice our religion.
It’s slightly more than three years since we started the HLS; it was a slow start with a handful of people coming to attend services on Shabbat. However, the past three years have seen us grow from a congregation of a handful of Lemba to a congregation of 75 strong people of different tribes and races. We have been welcoming everybody who is interested in practicing Judaism, be they Lemba or not. We have also been welcoming visitors from all over the world, including Jews who come to Zimbabwe for business or tourism and are in need of a place where they can attend services or celebrate chagim (festivals). We have had four visitors so far this year from the UK, the USA, and South Africa. We are happy that we have been able to provide such services and we hope that we will always continue to provide those.
To Kulanu, our donors, and friends, we would like thank you for helping us create this community. Our children will grow up within this community and system that you have helped us create. On Shabbat and chagim, the HLS is always a hive of activity; noisy kids playing together and adults davening. After the service we sit to eat lunch; this is a time to talk about the villages that we left but are still linked to, this community that we now belong to, and our collective hopes for the future as the HLS community. During the weekdays, women come to work on their mushroom project and students come to attend their Judaica lessons. This now truly feels like a community and we would like to thank all who have contributed to make it happen.
High Holidays to Remember
Zhou practicing blowing the shofar
before the Erev Rosh Hashanah service
This year 5777 was the fourth time that we celebrated Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at HLS. Our previous celebrations were pretty basic for several reasons, the main one being we are still learning about rabbinical Judaism, having been in isolation for hundreds of years. Our previous Rosh Hashanah observance involved the ritual of eating apples dipped in honey and blowing the shofar. This year it was different because we had learned a lot about Rosh Hashanah and also because, unlike the previous years, we had machzorim sourced for us by Barbara Vinick of Kulanu. Our understanding of the Rosh Hashanah service was helped by the lessons that I had with Jevin Eagle (USA) and Abe Reichman (Israel) over Skype.
Both gentlemen taught me about the background of Rosh Hashanah, the sources of the holidays in the Torah, the Halachah (law) and minhagim (traditions) associated with it. We learned about the structure of the Rosh Hashanah service and how to lead it. A lot of questions that I had were answered, such as: why we call it the New Year, yet it is observed on the first and second day of the 7th month; why it was never referred to as Rosh Hashanah in the Torah; why we have more than one new year in Judaism. The result of these lessons was that our Rosh Hashanah service had a lot of meaning for us. We had a natural Ba’al Tekiah (shofar blower) in Brighton Zhou. This young man is very talented and the notes came out clear and loud. Hashem willing, we will get him trained by a professional Ba’al Tekiah so he can also train others in the community.
The ladies started preparing for the holidays two days before, baking cakes and sweet round pancakes. We had a hive of activity the whole week leading to the holidays. I taught what I learned with Abe and Jevin and from reading books in our library, as well as from the internet, to a group of adults I study with on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We had a Rosh Hashanah evening service on Sunday, Shacharit and Mincha services on Monday and a Shacharit service on Tuesday, and on Wednesday we had an all-day Yom Kippur service. Our high holidays were wonderful and we give thanks to Kulanu for sponsoring us and to Abe and Jevin for teaching us.
High Holidays in Eretz Israel
by Simcha Natasha Butchart
Simcha Natasha Butchart
I have officially been in Jerusalem for approximately two months. Two months which have been unique, amazing, and on some occasions filled with anxiety. Upon arrival I was rather concerned about the language barrier. My spoken Hebrew definitely needed some exercise and walking on the streets of Jerusalem was the best way to do so. It was perfectly normal to have someone stop me on the street and ask me directions in Hebrew, and at those moments I realized that I did not know how to say ‘around the corner,’ or ‘turn right or left.’ I eventually began to settle in after losing my way on the streets of Jerusalem, and eventually learned to navigate my way home. I remember being so proud of myself when someone asked for directions and I was able to respond in Hebrew immediately without the usual awkward pause while I tried to process in my head how to respond.
I am currently studying in the year program at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in the social justice track. I am so grateful to have this opportunity to advance my knowledge in Judaism while living in Jerusalem. Studying at Pardes means that I have the wonderful opportunity of experiencing the chagim in Jerusalem. It is astonishing to have so much choice and a variety of kosher food, Judaica, and endless choices of shuls to attend on Shabbat and chaggim.
One memorable moment was Selichot at the Western Wall before Yom Kippur. It was overwhelming in a positive way to see such a huge crowd of people gather at the Western Wall for Selichot that night, and praying all together in one voice, and most of all for me as I spoke all my prayers in Hebrew. Many books and siddurim here are mostly in Hebrew, whereas I was used to a siddur with Hebrew and English.
Yom Kippur was a totally different experience. All businesses close on this day and there are no cars on the streets. The atmosphere changes and there is a quiet stillness reminding you that it indeed is an important day. Children play and bicycle in the streets. As I walked to shul I was greeted by the silence in Jerusalem, and I saw many people dressed in white making their way to shul as well.
Sukkot made me somewhat nostalgic as I began to think of people back home and wish they could experience the festive feeling in Jerusalem during this time. It is hard to have access to kosher food and products in my country, let alone be able to buy a Lulav and Etrog for Sukkot. Jerusalem has all this in abundance. I love the fact that a stranger can walk past me and say ‘Chag Sameach’ and I respond. I then see the same stranger the next day, and the next day again, and eventually this person becomes a familiar stranger. Jerusalem is a big city, but it is a small city too.
I have so much to share about my experiences while here in Israel and will continue to share my journey. I look forward to the day that people from my community will have the same experiences as I am having, and will have greater chances to explore Jerusalem and Israel in a way that is personal for them. I would love to be able to help people from my community to share their story, and make the great journey to visit the land of Israel.
A final word to everyone back home: work hard on your spoken Hebrew--it will come in handy when you arrive here. You will thank me for this advice later!
Emergency Food Program
Families receiving food supplies
It’s now been four months since we started the emergency food program, a program which was necessitated by the existence of a two year drought coupled with an economic and political crisis in Zimbabwe.
We appealed to the outside Jewish world and through Kulanu we received money to buy food for needy families. Every month the Harare Lemba Synagogue food committee has been buying foodstuffs, including beans, dried Kapenda fish, maize (corn) meal, milk, and flour worth $1000. There have been noticeable changes in the congregation since the program was started: kids who were malnourished are now looking healthy, breastfeeding mothers have enough milk for their suckling babies, and stressed fathers who couldn’t provide food for their families have peace of mind. We are a happy, healthy community thanks to Kulanu and to our donors. We intend for this program to run until June 2017 and by that time we expect the country to have good crop harvests so that we will see an end to the severe food shortages.
Tafadzwa Hwingwiri, a married father of two, expressed his appreciation for Kulanu’s assistance, writing, “life has become difficult to live here in Zimbabwe, considering the harsh economic conditions of the country and drought which has seen the majority populace suffer. For us Lemba, we are very grateful after being rescued from such a scenario. The food program has seen us having adequate meals daily. The monthly food ration has relieved us physically, socially, morally and even psychologically. As a family, our budget is no longer strained since basic needs are now being addressed by the program. The little income that we get is now able to address some issues such as rental rates and school fees which had become difficult to meet before the provisions. We continue to pray to G-d that the program may stay till the economy stabilizes and we have a bumper harvest.”
The Buhera Irrigation Project
Trucks delivering pipes and tanks for the irrigation project
The Buhera irrigation scheme was born out of the need to find a lasting solution to food shortages for both the people in the village and the members of the Harare Lemba Synagogue. Frequent droughts and unpredictable rainfall patterns have all contributed to perennial food shortages experienced in Zimbabwe as a whole. Added to the economic meltdown and political crisis, the result is the country is practically a disaster zone. This has led to various NGOs converging in the country offering food assistance in the countryside and cities alike.
As noted above, at the Harare Lemba Synagogue we launched, with help, the emergency food program which offers food assistance to needy families in the congregation. But this program cannot go on forever. As the saying goes, it’s best to teach people to catch fish than to always give them fish. The communal areas in rural Zimbabwe have enough land to grow food to sufficiently provide for people’s food needs and more. So land is not the problem, but rather lack of infrastructure development that can make it possible for the villagers to grow food throughout the whole year.
As I explained above, Zimbabwe has been experiencing frequent droughts and erratic rainfall patterns which make it nearly impossible to grow food while depending on rainfall alone. Also, over the years the droughts led to the decimation of the village herd of cattle. Cattle are a priceless asset; they are used as oxen power when tilling the land, and without them the villagers cannot till enough land to grow enough food for their consumption requirements. Most of them now depend on zero tillage, meaning that they are digging holes and planting on untilled pieces of land.
Therefore, the village irrigation scheme was created to provide irrigation infrastructure to Zvakavapano village in Buhera. This Lemba village was chosen for several reasons, the most important being there was already some infrastructure development in the form of a borehole, a pump, and a diesel generator. A survey and borehole capacity test done by a local irrigation engineering company confirmed that the borehole had more than enough water for our irrigation plans.
Through Kulanu, well-wishers raised funds to start drip installation on two hectares of land. We found an Israeli company, Drip Tech, which sells such irrigation equipment as well as recommends agents who install the drip equipment. The first step is to fence the land that will be put under drip, and as we are writing this article a fence is being installed on the land. The fence covers not just the two hectares targeted for initial drip irrigation installation, but a total of six hectares so as to provide for possible expansion in the future. Water tanks and pipes have also been installed.
Once this system becomes operational, which it will be by mid-November 2016, it will provide lasting solutions to both the Harare Lemba Synagogue and the village's food security problems. For the villagers who have land but cannot produce anything on it because of erratic rainfall, the irrigation scheme will be an insurance, a guarantee that if they grow crops they will harvest them. Such a guarantee did not exist before. Many times the villagers planted and weeded their crops only to watch their efforts go to naught as they watched their crops wither and dry up for lack of rain. Now they have a place where they will plant and will be guaranteed a harvest.
Having to depend on rainfall also meant that the village farms were productive for only six months during the rainy season; during the dry season the villagers and their farms were idle, with no farming activities whatsoever taking place. From June to November they sat and waited for the next rainy season. With nothing much to do in the village, the young people left the village for the city where they hoped to make a living. But, in most cases, for them the city is worse than the village. With Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate above 90%, the city has nothing to offer to the young Lemba who abandoned the villages of their origins hoping to make it big in the city.
This is about to change, as irrigation will mean the villagers will be able to grow three crops a year, keeping them busy for all twelve months. For the first time in many years, they will have enough food to eat. We are sure that bringing back productivity into village farms will stem the rural-urban migration. The youth will have work and a life in the village and will no longer need to lose themselves in the harsh, cold, and inhospitable city life.
The irrigation project is a win-win situation for both the village and the Harare Lemba Synagogue. The village has the land and water and will provide the labor. The funds to install the irrigation are being raised through the synagogue. Once the harvest comes, the bounty will be shared by the village and the synagogue. The harvest from the farm will replace the emergency food program.
The farm will pay for its day-to-day running with those who work on it to produce crops getting a percentage of the produce as payment. Surplus produce will be shared on 50-50 basis between the synagogue and the village. The village irrigation project is just a pilot project, and we hope every Lemba village will have a similar project. It is our solution to the Lemba food problems and and a way of empowering them to take charge of their lives.
HLS Learning Programs
Thank you, friends!
As a young congregation, the HLS still has a lot to learn about rabbinical Judaism. As a people who have been isolated from mainstream Judaism and have only started to come back with the start of HLS, we have a lot of catching up to do; we have to make learning an integral part of our lives and of HLS. In the previous years we studied with teachers from the USA, France and Israel, including teachers brought to us by Kulanu (the Bergs, Feinbergs, Guershon Nduwa, Sara Eisen, Keith and Nili Flaks).
We are still connected to all these teachers: the Feinbergs record the trope for the weekly parsha and a group of people who are learning to be Ba’al Koreh (Torah reader) can practice to chant Torah, Rav Keith still posts lessons to us via email, and we have songs that Sara Eisen recorded before she left for the USA. We also have teachers who teach us via Skype, such as Abe Reichman and Jevin Eagle. Since we cannot study together on Skype as a big group, because of equipment and logistical constraints, we have arranged it so that Modreck learns with the teachers on Skype and then he in turn teaches a class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We also have started a WhatsApp learning group which has more than twenty people.
Our congregation is growing! To date we have a total of 75 members who are registered with the congregation, with an average of 45 members attending services. Since May of this year, fifteen new members have joined us. These members had no chance to learn with the previous teachers, so they had to start learning from scratch; we started teaching them to read Hebrew using the Hebrew book sourced for us by Elaine and Irwin Berg from the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP). We have made copies for every student so that they take them to learn at home.
Now we are teaching them liturgy and about the holidays so that they catch up with the old members. In December during the school holidays we will have another class for the children. We would like to thank all our teachers past and present. May Hashem bless you for your generosity.
Lemba Kashrut Laws on Receiving Meat
from non-Lemba Neighbors
After Doing Shechita for Them
For hundreds of years the Lemba have been living alongside their non-Lemba neighbors and friends. With time the different groups learned to accept and be tolerant towards each other. The Lemba even helped their non-Lemba friends to till their lands since the Lemba kept large herds of cattle which are used to draw ploughs. In turn, the non-Lemba helped the Lemba harvest and weed their fields. Because of the amicable relationship that exists between us and our non-Lemba friends, when our friends want to slaughter their livestock, they call a Lemba shochet to do the slaughtering.
There are several reasons why they call a Lemba shochet to slaughter their animals. Living alongside the Lemba for hundreds of years has resulted in some of the non-Lemba adopting some Lemba customs. They believe the Lemba way of slaughtering animals is the best health-wise. Some of them slaughter animals so they can sell the meat, and having a Lemba shochet to slaughter is a way of making sure that their Lemba neighbors will also buy the meat.
Usually after slaughtering an animal a shochet is given some meat as payment. However, there were several Halachic questions that arose from this custom of getting meat as payment for slaughtering non-Lemba livestock. One particular incident led to a very memorable Halachic discourse during a Lemba Cultural Association annual general meeting at Mapakomhere in January 2014.
A Lemba shochet had slaughtered a cow for his non-Lemba neighbor but the shochet didn’t carry his meat immediately because it was too heavy for him. Instead he went back home to get a wheelbarrow so he could come fetch his meat. Meanwhile another non-Lemba who resides in the same village had a sick ox that died naturally during the night and he didn’t burn or bury the carcass, as is custom in such situations. Instead, they skinned the animal and shared the meat with his neighbors.
The non-Lemba who had his ox slaughtered by a Lemba also got a portion of the non-kosher meat; the slaughtered meat and the treif meat got mixed together before the shochet came to collect his share. When the Lemba shochet came to collect his share he didn’t know that the meat from the ox he slaughtered had gotten mixed with the meat from the ox that died naturally. So when the incident came to light it led to the great Halachic debate led by Dr. Rabson Wuriga in January 2014 at an LCA annual general conference.
Many Lemba elders had converged at Mapakomhere from different districts. In the end the elders laid down rules about accepting meat portions from our non-Lemba neighbors after we slaughter for them.
Below are a list of rules and guidelines that came from the discussion:
- a) A shochet should carry his portion immediately after slaughter; he cannot leave his portion at a non-Lemba’s home and come back later to collect his portion, since there will be no way of knowing if the meat had gotten mixed with non-kosher meat and other substances.
- b) Other Lemba who want to buy meat slaughtered by a Lemba shochet must come to buy the meat on the spot before the meat gets carried into the non-Lemba’s home. There must always be a Lemba present to observe the selling process to make sure that no non-Lemba knives and axes are used. If, at any point, the meat is left unmonitored by a Lemba man, the meat becomes unclean for the Lemba.
- c) Lemba men must avoid any jerky from non-Lemba whether the animal was slaughtered by a Lemba or not, because there is really no way of telling whether it’s the same meat on not. Also there is no way of telling where the meat was stored and how it was dried, so anything that goes into a non-Lemba’s home becomes unclean for the Lemba.
This incident and discussion reminds me of what happened in my own home village in Buhera. A Lemba man’s cow was struck by lightning while grazing in the pasture. The Lemba man, maybe because the loss of the cow was too much for him, ended up slitting the throat of the already-dead cow, planning to sell the meat to his fellow villagers. Some villagers bought the meat in front of some villagers who had seen the dead cow before the owner “schitered” it, and the villagers told the unlucky villagers that the meat they bought was from an unslaughtered cow. In the end, the unscrupulous Lemba man was lashed at the village head’s court and he was fined a cow. The villagers who had eaten the meat went for a cleansing ceremony at the village priest’s house. As a result of this incident the following laws were passed:
- a) Any animal that is supposed to be consumed by the Lemba public must be slaughtered in the presence of 5 or more people.
- b) A group of official village shochetim were elected to slaughter animals for the villagers.
- c) The village headman has to give his approval before any meat is sold to the public.
These Halachic rulings and the incidents that led to the laying down of the rulings are worth noting, since we can be confronted by the same problems in our respective communities.