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African rabbi makes pitch


Patrick Parkinson, The Park Record, November 12, 2008
Malaria, no access to water 'overwhelming'

The problems most Ugandans face - malaria and access to clean water - makes comparing his East Africa home to Park City difficult, Rabbi Gershom Sizomu said while visiting Summit County last week.

"They are completely different," Sizomu said in an interview Friday at Temple Har Shalom. "Here you have water in the bathrooms and everywhere. Contrast that with having to walk miles to go draw polluted water. That's a big challenge."

Park City was one stop on a nation-wide tour for the Jewish scholar in residence. He visited California and will journey to the East Coast this week to raise money to buy poor Ugandans mosquito nets.

"Malaria is the number one killer disease in Uganda," Sizomu said. "We need to raise funds for buying mosquito nets so we can give mosquito nets to everyone, because mosquitoes do not know who is Jewish or who is Muslim, all they see is dinner."

Steve Edwards, a member of Temple Har Shalom, asked Sizomu to visit Park City to solicit donations.

"We hope the Jewish community in Park City joins in," Edwards said.

Before speaking Friday at Temple Har Shalom, Sizomu explained that American Jewish communities have already helped drill water wells in his town of Mbale, Uganda.

"Those wells benefited everybody, the Jewish and non-Jewish populations, equally," he said. "I will tell them about the challenges that we have gone through and how we are attempting to overcome them, and how they can be part of this journey in Uganda."

According to Edwards, "Without those wells they had to walk three miles to a polluted pool to draw water"

Temple Har Shalom teacher Dondea Sherer-Lykes called Sizomu's story "amazing."

"It makes the problems we have seem so petty. These kids go all day with no lunch, they don't have clean water and they die every day," Sherer-Lykes said. "You hear the stories all over the place but when you actually get to meet someone from the community, that makes a huge impact."

In Africa, Jewish people are prevalent in South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia and Nigeria, where nearly 36 million claim they descended from Jews, Sizomu said.

"I am speaking about my community so people learn about a Jewish community in a remote part of the world," the rabbi said.

According to Sherer-Lykes, "You don't think of Jews in Uganda, so when you have an opportunity to have a scholar in residence and it's a rabbi from Uganda, you want people to know."

"His story helps get the religious school excited about doing some mitzvah projects," she said. "Having him here, the kids now have a connection."

Tales of malaria ravaging villages in Africa fascinated her 10-year-old son Ben.

"Mosquito nets are very important because everybody is getting sick and dying," Ben Lykes said about the need for bed nets to protect Ugandans from mosquitoes as they sleep.

Uganda is situated in sub-Saharan Africa near the eastern border of Congo where a cholera outbreak amidst a tense standoff between troops and rebels this week has refugees flooding into Uganda in droves, the Associated Press reports.

"We have many refugees. Everybody is coming to Uganda and when people come, food prices go high," Sizomu said. "Our progress as a community affects our neighbors as well."

Information about the Abayudaya Health and Development Project in Uganda is available by visiting www.BecholLashon.org.

"The problems in Uganda are overwhelming and very little money helps a lot," Sizomu said. "We can be different, but when it comes to challenges that face us all, we can bring humanity together. If you cannot come together as human beings then the challenges overcome you."
(Tags: Uganda, Malaria, Gershom Sizomu, Health)