Uganda Torah Project

by Neville DeAngelou

The remarkable journey of this Torah from Poland to the Putti People and the extraordinary men who inspired it is a story of such epic elements, one will find it hard to escape a roaming sense of the divine. Bellies dance. [Listen here. Vids below. Article Here.]

The Uganda Torah Mission Team

Left to right: Judah Epstein, Dr. Isador Lieberman, Rabbi Nasanya Zakon, Rabbi Avraham Bloomenstiel and The Torah Delivered To The Putti People

“Judaism is always thought of as an ethnicity, but it’s not — it’s a community of the soul,” Rabbi Avraham Bloomenstiel said. “This story has the potential to remind the greater community that you have to step outside of this very narrow European view of what it means to be Jewish.”

That phrase captures my imagination – a community of the soul.


Whilst I was a boy – a scout – I read much about the troubles of our world. I read and heard about wars and the coming of wars, about tyranny, about villages pillaged and lands raped, of natural resources stolen and shipped to distant places, and no one would tell me why.

I read and heard about the seeding of strife amongst peaceful peoples, and about many struggles for autonomy and identity, and about the fights for justice and freedom. I saw cruelty being visited by the able few upon the struggling many, and I read, as much as I heard, about innocence being raped, about the illiterate being robbed, about fools being seduced into the armies of the clever and the cruel. I saw evil spreading as is a flood beneath a pouring rain that shows no sign of abating.

And I made myself a vow.

I was a but boy, true. Indeed, I was a scout. I was seated on a patch of grass overlooking the breezy Atlantic, not far from leaping frogs and fragrant lilies. This was a sunny afternoon and I had in my clutch news clippings of a ruthless reality. I almost want to tell you whose names were written in those clippings. Suffice it to say these were all men – huge on the world stage, if that matters. Some are now dead. But then they stood tall above crumpled communities. Bullet riddled youths lay at the feet of the torn and the exhausted. One could practically smell their smoke leaping across the ocean.

I vowed then to grow up educated and by whatever means possible to learn to think for myself and to think things through, and to spread goodwill everywhere, and to encourage all those who’d want to be encouraged, and to find the strength and wisdom to rise above the crimes besetting our societies. In those moments, whilst just a boy seated on the sun-splashed green grass beside leaping frogs and fragrant lilies, I believed – I sincerely believed – that by the time I grew into a man, our world would be full of the most beautiful people – i.e. crisscrossing generations of men, women, boys and girls that are smarter and wiser than ever was – for these would’ve seen the worthlessness of the troubles of our world. They would’ve risen from the ashes and, therefore, be both ready and able to wipe those troubles clean away. And that we – all peoples everywhere – would by now be living in a marvelous new world full of new joys and wonder, blessed with innovations, enriched by the grandeur of our imagination. Peaceful. Authentic. And free. For, if a mere boy could see how easy it is for this to be, surely, everyone in the world would soon be able to see it too. Easily. Yes. A Community.

Judah Epstein Engaging The Men Of The Putti Village

My dearest friends said to me, flatly, “You are naive.” A Pollyana, some called me. Naive boy! “Somebody is going to pick your pocket with your eyes wide open,” they said. I told them they were wrong. So wrong, you are! I was emphatic too. So wrong, you are. You’ll see.

True, I was just a boy.


My God! They were right.

Oh God, I was so wrong. How naive. So-so-wrong.

How wrong? The death of Trayvon Martin says how wrong. The bullets of George Zimmerman ring out how wrong. New names every year squirrel through our lives declaring how wrong. VERY, VERY WRONG! Crumpled communities at our feet. Uh! How could I have been so wrong!

How wrong? Despicable, deplorable butchers wantonly spend millions and talent butchering the good names and goodwill of others – in vain, true – their wanton butchery demonstrable of an overarching readiness to mete out as it pleases: all boisterous to say nothing has changed, that progress will be stalled. That Adam is dead. That Eve is dead. That Abel is dead. That’s how wrong. Uh! How could I have been such a boy! For so long!

Thieves of goodness remind us. Tailors of scarlet letters remind us. Oh God! Fearlessly, they bully us all into a funny ‘righteousness’ – fractious – a clanging of disparate voices – old evil is the new good – a cacophonous constancy impressing upon us how cleverly and consistently evil morphs into every crevice of society and into every molecule of human endeavor. Uh! I was so wrong. How can I have been …

Hold there a minute . . . PAUSE . . . Not so fast, Luci.

AH! I see a clearing through the smoke. I feel a smile coming – a small smile. Me thinks, I’m beginning to see something in that phrase, that beautiful phrase: a community of the soul. My smile is widening. Hmm. Pause with me. I need – must – step aside from the narrower view – that squint. I want to see. I want to hear more clearly. Pause!

Putti Village Children Welcome Dance

Maybe this ‘Journey Of A Torah‘ will challenge some notions enough to provide us with a few new reference points for life and living, for community. Maybe, just maybe, some things require more than just a glance. It’s an intriguing story in and of itself. Have you heard it? Listen Here. Fascinating characters: a renowned spinal surgeon, a brilliant African doctor, a Harvard graduated Rabbi, a sofer, an elephant hunter, a king, two of the most nefarious human beings that ever lived, tricky colonialists, a restored Torah, a remote little village at the foothills of Mount Elgon, and our Judah. It’s a story readymade for the big screen. But as I said, what presently captures my attention is this epic phrase: a community of the soul. It’s a phrase that seems to be saying, “Let me write you a new story: a community of the soul!” It seems to me a hand outstretched, beckoning, “Shall we dance?”

You’ll find much more at the links below about the various aspects of this Torah’s intriguing journey from the wreckage of Nazi occupation to the thatched huts of the Putti People, delivered by a team of inspired men responding to their brethren’s needs:

Listen here to one of the many things Judah revealed on The Journey, which is stuck on me. “I have done a lot of different adventures throughout the world and visit a lot of places,” he said, “but this one is a lot different in many ways … very unique (being) in a mud hut with a thatched roof synagogue with the local Africans that are Jewish singing half way around the world from my home in Dallas yet singing the same songs and prayers as I do at my home back here in Dallas. So different, yet so the same!” Judah’s experience puts a spotlight on my new favorite phrase, a community of the soul, doesn’t it? Life is beautiful in this new story.

A Community Of The Soul!

Indulge my fantasy for a bit – a fantasy inspired by the brotherliness of these men and the adventurousness of our Judah – Jungle Judah.

What if you and I re-imagine Community Of The Soul? What would that look like? What would that be?

I have stepped out of the narrow view. I am re-imagining community. I am re-imagining the soul. Wow! By any fair chance, do you see what I see?


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