This book is about an unusual subject, presented in an unusual way. It comprises personal accounts of encounters with lesser known Jewish communities. The articles in the book were written by people who actually visited these far-off (and often inaccessible) groups, talking, singing, eating, dancing, and praying with them. All the communities in this volume practice Judaism in some form, although some may not meet strict halachic criteria. Some of the groups have Jewish roots; others do not. Most are seeking further education and formal conversion to Judaism we might view them as "developing" Jewish communities. Large segments of world Jewry have been lost through the course of history as a result of war, exile, and forced conversions. The greater part of the Jewish people was "lost" in the eighth century B.C.E., when the ten northern Israelite tribes were conquered by Assyria and the captives were forcibly resettled. Today their descendants can be found in India, Burma, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China. Another large group of Jews was "lost" during the period of forced conversions to Christianity in Spain and Portugal in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Many of them, the so-called Marrons, continued to practice Judaism in secret. Some of their descendants can be found today in Brazil, Mexico, and the southwestern United States, as well as Spain and Portugal. In addition, there are communities made up of people who have no Jewish ancestry but desire to embrace Judaism. One example is the group of Inca Indians in Trujillo, Peru, whose leader, a Catholic named Villanueva, decided in 1966 to become Jewish after pondering the Bible. Much of his community followed him, and after study with a rabbi in the late 1980's, three hundred of them converted by a bet din from Israel and made aliyah. Another example are the Abayudaya, a group of native Ugandans who have been practicing Judaism since 1919, when their leader, a local governor named Semei Kakungulu, studied and meditated on the Old Testament and adopted the observance of all Moses' commandments, including circumcision. Over the next seven decades, the Abayudaya were visited by American, European, and Israeli Jewish travelers who instructed them in postbiblical Judaism.
by Karen Primak
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