After returning to the U.S. a few days ago, I have (with some difficulty) beaten my jet lag and can finally put together a coherent sentence. Twenty-five hours of flying also gave me some time to reflect on my three and a half months in Harare, especially the last couple of weeks I was there.
After much thought and discussion with those close to me, I decided to return a bit earlier than I initially planned, and, as a result, there was a lot of material to cram into my last few lessons. In the remaining three weeks, the students learned thirty new vocabulary words in Hebrew, six different holidays, the rest of the seldom used Torah trope notes I had not yet taught, about one thousand years of Jewish history, and a few new songs and t’fillot. As always, the students at Harare Lemba Synagogue (HLS) persevered with incredible motivation.
The last week, everything seemed to slow down. My lessons came to an end, and I spent the remaining time saying goodbye to some of the wonderful people I met during my time in Harare, both from the Lemba community and others I encountered along the way.
This was a truly unique opportunity. I learned so much from my time with the Lemba in Harare, and I loved the time I spent teaching and learning from this community. I am personally enriched by this experience.
I look forward to seeing where HLS will be in the future, five years from now, or even just one year from now. There are a few congregants, in addition to Modreck, whom I see not just as active participants, but as future leaders as well. Besides the adults in the congregation though, I am excited to see the number of children who are actively engaged, attending services every Shabbat, learning to sing along with songs and t’fillot, wearing kipot and tzitzit. In these kids, I see the future of this Lemba community and I see great possibility.
There are many big plans for the Lemba in Zimbabwe in the near future, beyond continuing to learn. This includes a conference for young adults to be held this June or July and congregants both from Harare and the community in Masvingo being trained as mohelim. With the help of Kulanu, the Lemba will continue to grow as a Jews.
My hopes for the Lemba is that not only will they be embraced by the larger Jewish community and continue to embrace traditional Judaism, but that they will also develop rituals in a way that is true to what they believe as Lemba. I’ve learned, working with so many different types of Jews in different movements of Judaism, that there is a spectrum of observance, and while the Lemba are learning from different teachers and different sources, I hope they evolve some of their own customs and hold onto their traditions, and that the Jews around the world will open their ears and their hearts to learn from the Lemba as well.
I am grateful to so many people for this experience. Less than a year ago, I was sitting with Daniel Laufer, director of Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim (TRY), in his office, telling him I had absolutely no idea what to do with my life after TRY, and I have no idea where I would be now had he not said “you know, I have an idea” and picked up his phone to connect me with Kulanu.
To everyone working with Kulanu, it is truly amazing to see first-hand how much of a difference this special organization makes in so many people’s lives. I would like to thank Jack Zeller, founder of Kulanu, and his wife Diane, for putting so much faith in me, inspiring me, and making the whole experience possible; Harriet Bograd, president of Kulanu, for helping with all of the preparations for the trip before I left; and Sandy Leeder, treasurer of Kulanu and liaison to the Lemba, for the advice and support he gave throughout the time I was in Harare. I am incredibly thankful to Mordy and Mickey Feinberg, who not only left the students at HLS in a wonderful place for me to pick up where they left off, but acted as mentors to me before and during my trip, whenever I needed anything at all. To Modreck, Brenda, and their two beautiful boys, Aviv and Shlomo, for welcoming me into their home, and to Pinky and George for being to me not just friends, but siblings. I’d like to say thank you to the HLS community for welcoming me into their community and being so kind during my visit. And finally, a huge thanks to my loving and supportive parents, who made my time away so much easier by always being around, day and night, for anything I needed, even from so many miles away.
My time in Harare and all that I learned from the people I met there is something I will never forget. Above everything else, it was a chance for me to see Jews reaching out to our brothers and sisters to acknowledge that we are all one large family. Hamlet Zhou is a Lemba musician whom I was lucky enough to meet while I was in Harare. He is extremely talented, and will hopefully one day go to Israel to record with other Jewish artists, sharing one thing that always brings people together: music. This version of Salaam that he arranged, with words in Hebrew, Shona, and Arabic, express that someday, peace will come to us and to everyone around the world.