Studying with dynamic teachers in an active and experiential way is one aspect of Year Course that makes it unlike any other learning experience. In addition to classroom lectures and discussions, many courses also include the opportunity for the teacher and chanihcim to meet the people that shaped Jewish and Zionist history and visit the actual sites where history unfolded. Year Course Olami takes this concept to a global level.
Among the most popular courses offered to Year Course participants is the elective course "Lost Jewish Communities." This course introduces students to the intriguing question of how to explain the physical, cultural and spiritual survival of a variety of small communities who lived for many centuries in isolation. There exist several groups in the world who are remnants of Israel, such as the Karaites, Samaritans, Beta Israel from Ethiopia, B’nei Moshe from India, the “Last Marranos” of Portugal, Amazonian Jews and even groups claiming to descend from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. These groups not only live according to some Jewish rituals and beliefs, but also spark for us questions about Jewish identity and challenge definitions previously more clearly understood, for example, who is a Jew? What does it mean to be a religious Jew? What should be the relationship between Jews of Israel and the Diaspora? This course is an in depth investigation of these groups and offers students opportunities to meet some of their representatives.
As a part of Year Course Olami, participants will take part in the Lost Jewish Communities course and take their studies to a global level by travelling to places throughout the world where they will meet members of these Jewish communities still living in their native lands.
Year Course Olami begins with the most secretive of these lost communities – the Marranos or crypto-Jews. On the way to Israel, participants will travel to Portugal to search out the remnants of the Spanish Inquisition. The inquisition reached Portugal in 1497 and was Christianity’s attempt to massively convert the Jews. Many Jews fled Portugal, some converted to Christianity whilst others had their babies and children taken from them to be raised in Catholic homes. Some were imprisoned and tortured to death as they continued to practice their religion. Lastly, a large group pretended to convert to Christianity while secretly practicing Judaism and hundreds of years later, in modern day Portugal, they still remember fragments of their Jewish ancestry and some still practice Jewish rituals in secret. Participants in Olami will meet some of these Jews who now struggle with their identity and thoughts of returning to a full Jewish life.
Christian missionaries have been active for hundreds of years in Africa. Through their work, various African tribes have been exposed to the Jewish and Christian Bibles, raising the curiosity of a few tribes that identified with the Jewish story. One of those tribes in Eastern Uganda is the Abayudaya who began to delve into Jewish practice in the early 1900’s. Thousands were on their way to becoming fully Jewish when the dictator Idi Amin came to power in 1971 and subsequently outlawed Judaism forcing Ugandans to convert to either Christianity or Islam. After Idi Amin was overthrown in 1979, there was resurgence in Jewish interest. In 2002, a group of Conservative (Maorti) Jewish rabbis went to Uganda to perform a mass Jewish conversion for the Abayudaya. Today the community is small but flourishing with branches in several villages. During this visit to Uganda, Olami participants will spend time in the Abayudaya villages surrounded by the unique melodies and traditions of this intriguing Jewish community.
Olami will then travel to a third continent to visit India and its B’nei Moshe community. Over the centuries various groups of Jews made their way to India but after the establishment of the Jewish State most of these Jews migrated to Israel. Today there are about 5,000 Jews mostly located in Mumbai (Bombay) and Olami will visit their community. In addition, there is another large group in the northeast of the country who claim to be descendents of the original 10 Lost Tribes. The tribe of Menashe was banished from Israel in 722 BCE and slowly migrated east. Tens of thousands live today in India and still maintain some Jewish practices. They are Asian in appearance and thousands have undergone Orthodox Jewish conversion. Recently several hundred landed in Israel as they made Aliyah. Participants of Olami will meet and visit with this northern community as well.
2,500 years ago a group of Jews made their way to Yemen and eventually spread out into Africa. These people were not from the 10 Lost Tribes but rather from the tribe of Judah. One segment of the Lemba tribe lives in South Africa and Olami will visit these remarkable black, African Jews. For many years there was scepticism in the Jewish world as to the authenticity of this Jewish community, but a DNA study by Jenkins and Spurgle discovered a genetic link on the y-chromosome of Jewish Cohanim and after the Lemba requested to be tested, it was determined that their Cohanim genetically matched those in the study. There are tens of thousands of Lemba and they are in the process of reconnecting to Judaism. Their fascinating story will set the stage for Olami’s visit to South Africa.
The four communities of Jews that Olami will encounter in their worldwide travels represent four major groups of people that are currently not fully accepted as Jews. The Marranos were Jewish and their forced conversion and secret practice of Judaism led to their gradual assimilation. The Lemba were also Jews but left Israel and normative Judaism so long ago that they forgot much of the tradition. The B’nai Menashe did not descend from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin as did the mainstream Jewish community of today. However, the “lost” tribes of Israel were never truly lost but rather spread throughout the world slowly losing contact with the remainder of the Jewish people and “normative” Judaism. Finally, the Abayudaya represent third-world communities interested in Judaism as the moral-ethical paradigm by which they wish to lead their lives.
Year Course Olami is a dynamic programme that will bring participants to exotic locations. In addition to spending time with each extraordinary Jewish community, participants will discover the amazing sites there are to see in each country, such as the castles in Portugal, a safari in South Africa, sailing the Nile in Uganda, and the Taj Mahal in India. While exploring the past, present, and future of each community, participants will gain a better appreciation of Jewish history and culture and will confront questions, such as, how should the established Jewish world relate to these groups? What should be Judaism’s modern-day stance towards conversion? How can they move to Israel? Should Israel strive to absorb these groups understanding that many are from third-world countries? And finally, as Zionists how should one approach this phenomenon?
Click below to see the itinerary of each Lost Jewish Communities component:
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Click here to learn more about our Israel, Africa and the Jews track