LinkedIn got it right

LinkedIn got it right

Fort Lee educator connects with Ugandan rabbi-educator and now works to help the community

Rabbi Enosh’s brother-in-law Yonah smiles as he celebrates a community brit milah. The rabbi’s father-in-law, Moshe, sips wine in the background. (All photos courtesy Rabbi Enosh Keki Mainah)
Rabbi Enosh’s brother-in-law Yonah smiles as he celebrates a community brit milah. The rabbi’s father-in-law, Moshe, sips wine in the background. (All photos courtesy Rabbi Enosh Keki Mainah)

Avi Slivko of Fort Lee is a longtime educator and administrator at the religous school at Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, and a public elementary school principal.

For years, he’s been fascinated by a photograph that used to hang in his living room. It’s a picture of a Black man — and clearly, given the rest of the image, he’s not an African-American but an African, in his own community — wearing a kippah, holding a sefer Torah with such obvious reverence that Dr. Slivko could feel it, a tangible force coming from the flat image.

This is a classroom where students learn Hebrew, Tanach, and tefillot.

It’s so powerful a picture, Dr. Slivko said, that he gave it to his father-in-law, a devout Christian, who also loves it; the picture links the father- and son-in-law across faiths with its power and love.

Not long ago, Dr. Slivko got a LinkedIn request from a fellow educator, Rabbi Enosh Keki Mainah. Rabbi Enosh, as he is called, is the leader of a Jewish community in Uganda, and the principal of a Jewish school there.

Rabbi Enosh’s uncle, Yoav Yonadav, wearing a traditional Ugandan gown below his tallit, stands with his namesake, one of the rabbi’s sons, also Yoav Yonadav. It’s after Shachrit on Thursday, two days before Yoav Yonadav’s bar mitzvah ceremony.

Although neither man is entirely clear about how they made the connection — LinkedIn, like all social media platforms, works by algorithms that aren’t necessarily easy to figure out from the outside — the two began to talk online. Soon, Dr. Slivko was astonished to learn that the man in the photo is Rabbi Enosh’s uncle.

Rabbi Enosh’s community, centered in a village called Putti, was founded in 1919, when a powerful Ugandan political leader, Semei Kukungulu, converted to Judaism. His followers, the Abayudaya, formed a community, and it has remained Jewish. There have been schisms in the community since — the most well-known branch, led by Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, a Conservative rabbi, is part of the Conservative/Masorti movement worldwide. But Rabbi Enosh’s part of the community was converted formally by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, and Patti’s Jewish community is proudly Orthodox.

This is the village’s newly built school.

It has shuls, a mikvah, and kosher food; its residents are able to live fully Jewish lives.

The school in Patti, called the Jonathan Netanyahu School, which Rabbi Enosh heads, has 187 students enrolled now; 145 of them are Jewish, Rabbi Enosh said, and the others are Christian and Muslim. The school welcomes them all.

These are some of the Christian students in the school’s primary grades.

“We all drink from the same well,” Rabbi Enosh said.

And when he says that, he means it both metaphorically and literally. Most of the students’ parents are subsistence farmers.

The students range from 3-year-old kindergarteners through 12-year-old middle-schoolers. The students, like the community, are poor, and the school desperately needs resources. They don’t have much food; the school gives them breakfast and lunch when it can, but often it can manage to give them only one meal a day, Rabbi Enosh said.

Rabbi Enosh and his wife, Shirah, stand behind some of their children; their large family is a blend of children they’ve adopted and Shirah has borne.

He’d like funds to start a chicken farm; that way the students could have both eggs and chicken to eat.

He wants to raise money for dormitory space. Students have to walk to school, and their trek can be miles long. “It’s hard to be able to pay attention in school after such a long walk,” Rabbi Enosh said. He’d like to have the little ones, in particular, stay at school; he feels that even at 3, they’re old enough to do that, but the walk is particularly taxing for them. Remember, he says, life here is entirely unlike life in the United States.

Alexandar Eshiara is the school’s head teacher.

The school and the village don’t have much contact with the outside world, although he does, Rabbi Enosh said. He has a cellphone and a computer. “That’s because I’m the leader,” he said. But he’d very much like to have more people have more ways to see beyond the village, and to have outsiders see them.

Back in New Jersey, Dr. Slivko is working to help Rabbi Enosh. “Everything is relative,” he said. The Jewish community pushes to maintain and support its day schools, and that matters greatly, but the needs here pale by comparison to the needs there. “It is clear and obvious that our brothers and sisters in Uganda personify the cornerstones of pure faith, love, and brotherhood that Judaism’s essence is built on,” he wrote in a piece he wrote jointly with Rabbi Enosh. “Emunah Shelaima (pure faith) personified. Together, based on feedback from the school and the community, we will be working to provide meaningful professional development to the Jonathan Netanyahu School, placing emphasis on best practices in pedagogy, teacher observation/evaluation and support, and effectual classroom management methodologies.”

An Orthodox Jew and a member of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, Dr. Slivko believes that there was a reason why LinkedIn’s mysterious algorithm put him in touch with Rabbi Enosh. “There is a twin concept in Judaism that everything happens for a reason, and that these reasons are somehow inextricably connected in one form or another. You may not always see it in the linkage — but whether or not you can or are willing to see the links, they are there.”

Rabbi Enosh Keki Mainah is at (And yes, it’s ribbi, not rabbi. That’s not a typo.)

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