Rebecca Dollinger's Mitzvah Project
Last December, I, along with my family, traveled to the Abayudaya Jewish community in eastern Uganda. During the week we spent there, I experienced their lifestyle, their religious services, and I got to play with the children. It was really amazing. It was a trip I’ll never forget!
On Shabbat morning, the Abayudaya leader, Rabbi Gershom, invited me to read from the Torah. When I first looked at the ark, I was surprised that it did not have an eternal light. I’d always learned that synagogues must have an eternal light. In fact, the eternal light is a ritual that is mentioned in my Torah portion this week. never forget!
My Torah portion, Tetzaveh, in Exodus, describes the different rituals in Jewish law. There are a lot of different ones, such as the priestly clothing, and how to correctly sacrifice animals. But this particular ritual, the ner tamid, has always stood out to me. never forget!
Most synagogues have a symbolic eternal light burning above the Torah Ark, never going out. Why must it never go out? And what does it symbolize? never forget!
I believe it symbolizes God because God’s light is everlasting. God is a strong eternal light. God created us, God was the beginning. God brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. Often when God showed himself to Moses, God appeared through light; like the burning bush. The wood in the burning bush would not burn; so the fire could last forever. That fire was God. never forget!
Once in the Torah, Moses saw God’s back, and it was fire. Light is used in Judaism a lot, such as the story of Hanukah, Yahrzeit candles, Shabbat candles, and havdalah candles. Light represents all that is holy. But why do we need an external reminder? It is to remind us that all of us have a strong eternal light inside of us that keeps burning, full of holiness, wisdom, and kindness.
Rabbi Gershom Sizomu has an eternal light burning inside of him that helps guide him to lead, saving and helping Jews, and building a Jewish community in Uganda.
Rabbi Gerhsom Sizomu. This is a man I look up to very much. We met him while we were visiting the Jewish community in Uganda. His father and grandfather were both rabbis and they helped the Abayudaya king create Uganda’s first Jewish community.
Rabbi Gershom has taken Jews from remote places in Africa and has helped bring them together and bring their own eternal lights of happiness together, even, as I learned when we visited, that there is no electricity for a ner tamid in any of Abayudaya’s six synagogues.
He helped “save” the Jewish people when there seemed to be no hope left for them, and he is also doing a lot of tzedakah work that really helps. He helped build a well in order to get clean water to Jews, Christians, and Moslems in his village, and he brings around mini snacks and gives them to the most mal-nourished children he sees. He helps with the medical clinic, and pays the medical bills of senior citizens. Gershom is a man with a strong eternal light that shines to help guide us all.
Gershom is a man who inspires me. Despite everything, he is always happy. As a rabbi, he carries the entire community on his shoulders. He’s responsible for leading services, keeping his community safe and healthy, and so much more.
He has gone through some really harsh experiences in his lifetime. He lived through Idi Amin, who made Judaism illegal. He risked his life to keep the government from stealing the Abayudaya’s land.
And yet he remains so joyful when we visited. We brought their community some gifts, and he was so thankful. He is a teacher not only to his community, but to everyone he meets.