A Ugandan rabbi student in New York City wrote a children’s book about her favorite Jewish holiday

(New York Jewish Week) — Shoshi is an energetic young girl who is always staring at the prizes. In preparation for her favorite Jewish holiday, Sukkot, she spent many sleepless nights preparing for their town’s annual Sukkot competition.

Shoshi and her brothers Avram and David live with their grandmother in the town of Mbale in eastern Uganda, and they are members of a Jewish community known as Abayudaya (“Judas” in Luganda). They look forward to the Shook Festival competition all year – but when a major storm destroys a beautiful temporary home built for the holiday, Shoshi steps up and eventually learns that it feels better to work with the community than to win.

The same goes for the plot of “The Best of Suka: The Story of Uganda,” a new picture book published by Kalaniot Books based on the real-life experiences of its author Shoshana Nambi, a first-time children’s book author who Quick – become a rabbi.

Nambi, 33, grew up in the Abayudaya community, but currently lives on the Upper West Side with her daughter Emunah, 13.Nambi plans to eventually return to Mbale after her appointment from Hebrew Union College in 2024 Becoming the first female rabbi in the group About 2,500 Jews.

New York Jewish Week catches up with Nambi a week before Sukkot, a week-long harvest holiday that begins on the evening of Sunday, October 9. We talked about the impact she hopes her debut book will have on Jewish communities in Uganda and the United States, how Sukkot is different between Mbale and New York City, and how she wrote a book about her favorite childhood story Books were something she never thought to do.

This dialogue has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

The author, Shoshana Nambi, is studying to become a rabbi at the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Religious Institute. Nambi grew up in the Abayudaya Jewish community in eastern Uganda. (Courtesy of Kalaniot Books)

Jewish Week in New York: How and when did the idea arise to write a book about your childhood experiences celebrating Sukkot in Uganda?

Shoshanna Namby: I never thought about writing a book. The community would invite me to talk about my Jewish community, and at a Zoom event, I was asked to tell them something I remember growing up.So this story – the story of the suka walking and us kids running around and watching all the suka built by everyone – that’s the story I’ve always told me [at the event].

Coincidentally, Lili Rosenstreich, my publisher at Kalaniot Books — who taught me a lot about writing children’s books — was also in the audience. She later sent me an email saying, “You could write that story as a children’s book.” I didn’t know anything about writing children’s books. But I thought about it, and I think it’s a wonderful idea for the community to put our story into words and let children and parents know about the Abayudaya Jewish community in Uganda and our Sukkot tradition.

You write in the first line of your book, “Sukkot is Shoshi’s favorite Jewish holiday.” Why it’s your favorite holiday, Sukkot in Uganda is similar to Sukkot in Israel or America where you used to live than how?

At this point, I would like to say that I have two or three favorite Jewish holidays – Passover, Sukkot, and Yom Kippur. I love the growth of Sukkot. I love the idea of ​​decorating. I love the idea of ​​going and sitting in someone else’s place.I love this big walk [through the village]. I like to eat fruit hanging in people’s houses. I love Rabbi’s message about working together as a community. I like small games. It’s not an official match – it’s really, really, really informal. No one has ever won a sukka, but usually, at the end of the walk, the whole group is sitting in someone’s sukka. We all know that’s the best sukkah because usually it’s where the rabbi ends, and where the walk ends, where we sing and be kids. So I still like the holiday of Sukkot.

I’d say it’s pretty much the same in every country. I love that Israel has so many sukkas and when you walk around you see people actively building them. I haven’t seen so many in NYC.usually [in Israel or Uganda], when I came out of the house there was suka on the street and it was beautiful. In NYC, we don’t have a sukha in our building, but I hope to spend some time sitting and visiting the school, reading my book in their sukha, and celebrating the rabbinic trainee at the sukha in my congregation, Rodeph Sholom.

In Uganda there is also a large synagogue where people build a shack and people gather to build it – people bring sticks, trees, fruit and other things to build and actively dig holes and build roofs so that They can say they are part of it. Here, too, just a little bit of a different process and maybe materials – different fruit hangings, different decorations and different trees. But it’s mostly the same idea.

Let’s talk about the beautiful illustrations in your book. What was it like to see it come to life? What was the process like working with illustrator Moran Yogev?

I Love The same goes for illustrations. At first, I thought they were pretty, but when Moran added color to them, they were spectacular. We go back and forth. The colours are amazing and I love how they complement the colourful clothes of the people of Uganda. People love to wear bright colors and patterns and things like that. We wear traditional clothes in 10 colors in one dress. As a kid I liked to wear bright clothes to the synagogue. I’m wearing this smaller dress made from the rest of my grandmother’s larger dress.

So I love that, and I love how she blends into the landscape – the rolling hills, the flowers and foliage, and that beauty that’s pretty representative of the region I’m from. The area where the synagogue is located is called “The Hill” because it is elevated and you can see beautiful views of the surroundings and the slopes of Mount Elgon.

Most of the people around are farmers, so there are many plants, vegetables and trees. We also talked back and forth about people’s physical characteristics and how I really wanted people to appear. At first, she sent me a picture of the rabbi, this big rabbi with a long beard. I said, “I don’t think even if the rabbi had a beard, it wouldn’t be that long.” It was fun working with her. She did an amazing job.

How does it feel to be able to bring this story to your community that has never been told in a children’s book before?

This is a brilliant idea and I’m glad the publisher contacted me. I grew up and didn’t read books at all. The school I went to had about 100 kids in a class, and only the teachers had textbooks or storybooks, so I didn’t read children’s books since I was a kid.Even though [Abayudaya] The community, there are some book donations from the US and Israel, but no children’s books about the community written by people from the community.

Allowing children to be able to see their Jewish identity celebrated – their trees and food and how they decorate their dwellings, as well as specific names like Nalango, the name of the woman we call twins, and Daudi, the It’s how we pronounce David in Uganda – it’s really, really important that all these things that they are familiar with are celebrated in a Jewish book.I think it’s just the first [book] We can move on and maybe someone else can write with me.

Also, it’s important for kids here [in the United States] Learn about the Jewish community in Uganda. Not just children, but caregivers, educators, parents, Jews and non-Jews. When we work together in a community, the value we all win is a universal message.

Bonus question: You said earlier that you plan to return to Uganda after ordination. What are your plans and what does it mean to be a rabbi in the Abayudaya community?

I hope to return to Uganda at some point. My daughter is 13 now and she’s in eighth grade at Schechter in Manhattan. When I finish rabbinical school, she will be her freshman year of high school. I think I’ll stay for another three years and maybe get a job here so she can finish high school and hopefully return home to Uganda.

My community is an egalitarian community that has been open to female rabbis, teachers and leaders in the community for some time now.It wasn’t like this before, but After we appointed our first rabbi, Rabbi Gershom SizomuAfterwards, he came back for a lively discussion about how he learned from female professors and how he had great chavrutas (groups that study Talmud texts together), and what happens when women get the chance How different. So things have really changed. I am proud to say that my community is very egalitarian when it comes to community leadership. The only thing I need to do is that I’m from Reformed Seminary and my community is Conservative. This is something we can do – I know this community very well, I know what they like to learn, how they like to pray, and the beautiful songs we sing a lot in Uganda. These are the things I want to continue to do when I go back.

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