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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Wherever There Is Coca-Cola, There Are Jews

"Are you a Jew?"

Our friend and hero (NOT) Mel Gibson asked this question recently to a LA County Deputy Sheriff and it got him in a lot of trouble - deservedly so.

Here in Tanzania, the only person who would even think of asking you such a question would be another Jew. As I explained a few weeks ago - Jews are just not on the radar screen here. Even with the Middle East all aflame. We just don't register.

But, it turns out that there is a nice little group of American Jews here in Tanzania - and we seem to all know each other, or at least have heard that so and so works with so and so who is Jewish. It is like we are constantly working on our Yom Kippur break fast guest list. I gather it often this way when a community is small.

But there is also an Israeli community here - about 40 people from 10 families. One of the families owns a Middle Eastern restaurant called Nargila. Jane and I ate there about two weeks ago and we went back tonight for some more top quality hummus and falafel.

When we sat down in the lounge area - done up as a Bedouin tent - the Israeli folk music was blasting. I must admit that I was looking for a reason to "come out" to these people, and I took my opportunity to do so when I told the waitress (who is also the owner's daughter) that the music reminded of my summer camp days.

"Ach... so you are Jewish?" She asked with a strong Israeli accent.

"Yes," I said.

"Well then, we will have to put you on The List," she responded.

Evidently there is a List. A List of Jews. A List of Jews in Tanzania - maintained by an Israeli family that has been living in Tanzania on and off for 24 years.

"We have Passover, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and sometimes Hannuka," I was informed. "Last year we even had Rabbis."

Which leads me to a story I've been wanting to share...

You see Jaden and Rowan had a teacher, Rita, at the Temple pre-school in Washington, DC last year who has a son, Dan, who was a Fulbright scholar here in Dar. Come Passover, Rita was very worried about how Dan would get his fill of matzoh for the season and so she called the Chabad Lubavitchers to come and take care of his needs and those of the rest of the wayward Jews of Tanzania She told me this on the eve of my move to Tanzania and since I hadn't heard of the Chabad movement I looked it up online. According to Wikipedia:

"Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, spurred on the movement to what has become known as shlichus ("being emissaries [performing outreach]") after becoming Rebbe in 1950-1951. As a result, Chabad shluchim ("emissaries", sing. shaliach) have moved all over the world with the mission of helping all Jews, regardless of denomination or affiliation. They assist Jews with all their religious needs, as well as with physical assistance and spiritual guidance and teaching. The ultimate goal is to encourage Jews to learn more about their Jewish heritage and to practice Judaism. All over the world Lubavitchers assist and support the religious needs of tens of thousands of Jews worldwide. In jest, emissaries have commented on various occasions that "wherever there is Coca-Cola, there is Chabad"

If we are to believe this, the Chabad have Jewish emissaries strategically placed all over the world, just waiting for opportunities to help the rest of us be more Jewish. So, just days after Rita's desperate call to the Brooklyn Chabad brotherhood two Hassidic Rabbis were dispatched from their regional office in Kinshasa, "Democratic" Republic of Congo and arrived on Dan's doorstep in the staff housing section of the University of Dar es Salaam.

My friends, try to picture this. It is 90+ degrees and 100% humidity. Dan is at home in Dar es Salaam, Africa. There is a knock on the door. He opens the door to find two men in long black coats and heavy beards and hats - Lebavitcher Rabbis. Tanzanians on the street are staring - they can't imagine who these people from another planet are. The Rabbis invite themselves in and announce that they have arrived to help him and the Jews of Tanzania celebrate Passover. And as if to prove their readiness, they hand him a box of matzoh.

Personally, I would die.

But Dan knew just what to do. He called the Israelis. The ones with The List of Jews.

The next night, the Friday before Passover, all the Jews of Tanzania (well most of them at least - half the Israeli community evidently doesn't talk to the other half of the Israeli community - but that is a story for another day) showed up at the Nargila restaurant for Sabbath dinner, courtesy of the Chabads. Curiosity would have definitely driven me there, too, if I had already been in country. A few days later, they were also host to a 5-hour long Passover Seder. And the killer of it all is that the Rabbis brought 500 lbs of their own food with them. They couldn't eat a thing in Tanzania - it wouldn't have been kosher.

As soon as Passover was over, and the Jews of Tanzania had reconnected with their roots, the super Jews from Congo (well from Brooklyn via Congo) got back on the plane and all returned to normal here in Dar es Salaam. But mark my word, the next time the Chabads come through Dar, I'll be ready to join the rest of the Jews of Tanzania for an out-of-this-world cultural and religious experience. And I plan to take photos, too. Sabbath be damned!

Which brings me back to the Israelis with the restaurant. Jane and I ended up sitting with them for about 40 minutes after dinner this evening as they each smoked a full pack of Camels and peppered me with - what in another context - would have been inappropriate questions. (So you have kids? Where's their father? Are they going to end up marrying their half-brothers and sisters if they don't know who their father is? What if your daughter fell in love with her half-brother but didn't know it until it was too late?)

I think that perhaps Jane was a little bit surprised at their directness and the way they shared their strong opinions without censorship.

But not me.

I felt at home - with my peeps.

After all, I am on The List.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As you can imagine, this is my favorite post yet.

Those Israelis.

Thanks for keeping me laughing.


6:02 AM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Ha, so great! I too would die with the rabbis at my door halfway around the world bearing matzoh. But you knew that.

Meanwhile, I thought you wrote that there is an A-list of jews, not "a list." So I'm here thinking, well OF COURSE she's on the A-list! Why wouldn't she be?

7:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this if for momof hally. I'm glad you feel your roots. Grandma Jean would say I've done a good job.

5:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is just too hilarious. i can totally relate. when i lived in brasilia the only synagogue in town was run by the chabad. all the jews would gather there at least once a year and sometimes more ofte. and I have a CDC friend in Beijing, a single jewish mom with three adopted chinese daughters (two adopted here in usa), who sends them to the chabad school for their jewish education!
and, last week I saw a movie about the jews of tijuana and how now the most have gone north of the border, the chabads are the main jewish game in town. so yes, chabad are everywhere! its amazing. but tanzania! the matzoh from kinhsasa.

6:36 AM  
Blogger KatBliss said...

The List! Great story.

3:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

wow, that's a great story. and i'm so glad you put it online - i am a jew coming to tanzania for a scholarship and i've been wondering if there are any of our people in dar es salaam. are you still in touch with the others on "The List"? i'd love to get in touch with them if you do have some contacts! my email is sirena.rubinoff@gmail.com. thanks!

6:45 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Does anyone know of Jews in Tanzania who could host an Israeli girl for Rosh Hashana?

8:58 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

My Jewish daughter is studying abroad in Fall 2007 with the School for International Training (SIT)program. She will be in different places but mostly in or near Arusha.

Any Jews on the "List" in or near Arusha?z4801k

2:59 PM  
Blogger Edoe Cohen said...

Hello. I am a co-director of a new NGO called Jewish Heart for Africa. The goal of the organization is to implement Israeli solar technology in rural African villages for electricity and water pumping purposes. The board of directors (3 people total) are arriving in Tanzania for one week (December 16th to the 23rd) to meet with government officials and to tour the villages where we might implement our project.

We would love to meet you and to hear about your experiences in Tanzania. Maybe you could also help us connect with the right people to help further our project. And maybe also to find a warm meal for Friday night.

Edoe Cohen

7:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am planning to go and work for a telecom company en EL SALAAM.
And i need some information about the jews community in tanzania, pls send me an e-mail with information

5:20 PM  
Blogger Lisa's Tanzania Blog said...

I just moved to Dar and would like to meet up with some of my peeps. Can you help? Please email me at: lisamhawley@gmail.com

10:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So me as a anitisemite, is it ok if i put together a list also?

1:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm Tanzanian christan and Sabbath keeper,I wish like joining you as long as read much of you Jews from bible.
I'll be greatfull if you welcom me for your friday before Sabbath,passover or any of your cultural thing
You can text me through my email senziawarema@yahoo.com

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I dont know if you will be able to read this because this is an old post. I am heading to Tanzania in 3 weeks for about 3 months. I am really looking to find israelis or jewish people it just makes me feel a bit more at home in such a new place to me.

Where can i find them? would love to hear back from you.


11:29 PM  
Blogger Rachel Fogel said...


I will be in Arusha for 9 weeks and would love to know if there are any other jews nearby. My mother would feel much better if she knew that i knew other jews in Tanzania. If you know of any or are one please email me rsfogel@gmail.com

Todah vshalom


5:05 PM  
Anonymous viagra online said...

Very funny. I would be mortified if two rabbis showed up at my door. But would they have sent a male to my door or would they have sent the Rabbi's wife? Would the rabbis be allowed in my house since I am woman and they are man?

8:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is a good news that we have jews living in Tanzania,I would like to ask wether judaism is religion or is just a tribe,join judaism one has to convert or has to be born a jew?

10:36 PM  
Blogger vivgrossman said...

We will be in Moshi/Arusha in July and are thinking of having our son bar mitzvah-ed there....Anyone know of someone who can perform a service in Tanzania??? any help appreciated!! Please email me at vivgrossman@gmail.com thanks so much

4:45 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

There are a few African families around Kilimanjaro linked to First Temple Ethiopian Judaism and at least one European "secret Jewish" family that settled in Tanganyika in the 1920's. Tanganyika (joined with Zanzibar in 1964 to become Tanzania) was once a proposed Jewish homeland.

12:48 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

David Ben Gurion stated:
"You see, we were Jews without a definition for the last 3,000 years and we will remain so. There are several definitions but the thing existed before any definition was given and after many definitions were given to the same thing. By one definition the Jews are a religious community, and there are a number of Jews that accept that definition. There is a definition that Jews are a nation, and there are a number of Jews that accept that definition. There are a number of Jews without any definition. They are just Jews. I am one of them. I don’t need any definition. I am what I am."

1:15 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

In the past 15 years there has been a disturbing trend of "Judiasm Denial", by academics who believe that Judaism is a invented religion like the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons)and the Scientologists along (like them) with a bogus history. This has stemmed from the failure to find any evidence in Israel/Palestine to support the Old Testament account before 450 BC. African Judaism is the main evidence to reject this hypothesis as it retains the Torah from Solomon's time (40 laws instead of 613) and much else that suggests that Moses was from Nubia, the Exodus passed through Ethiopia to Yemen and that, until the Babylonian conquest, Judah was in West Arabia not Israel/Palestine.

1:23 AM  
Blogger Kevin Kev said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:58 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Shalom every one. My daughter and I are traveling to Tanzania. Kindly link us to a Jewish family or religious gathering. Priellabattsyion@gmail.com.Todah Raba

7:25 PM  
Blogger Yehudah Kahalani said...

Yehudah kahalani Amir
Mori of Arusha, Kohalaniyehudah@gmail.com

Strictly religious and no driving on Shabbat and modest should be observed, Note it’s Yemenite Nusah

10:32 AM  

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