Jewish Community of Kenya is unique, comprising Jewry from all corners of the earth, Sephardic and Ashkenazi, from countries as diverse as Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Germany, the UK, the U.S., Canada, Israel, Yemen, Iraq, India, Morocco, and South Africa—and native-born Kenyan Jews.
Our community is a microcosm of the Jewish Diaspora, as are the stories of how each one of us arrived in Kenya. The diversity is most clearly apparent on the high holy days when one can see the traditions practiced in a variety of ways—and yet all are attentive to the essence of the holiday.
Jews in Kenya have never been numerous; nevertheless they have been remarkably influential in the development of the country. To understand their role in Kenya, one must realize that during the colonial era, people in Kenya were officially classified as European, Asian, and African.
The Jews, all being of European origin, fell without question in the category of European. This, for better or worse, facilitated their integration. Many were secular Jews, and their nationality predominated over their religion-thus an English Jew was considered first and foremost an Englishman or woman, a Polish or Lithuanian Jew, certainly a European.
The positive aspect of was that this lessened anti-Semitism. The negative was that the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation often had a hard time keeping itself going.
In 1963, when Kenya became independent and Israel opened an Embassy in Nairobi, the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation took on a new lease of life. Due to the excellent relations that early Jews had established, the Israelis found themselves in a favourable environment, having excellent relations with Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta (and later with his successor Daniel arap Moi).
Scores of Israelis arrived, some in the diplomatic corps, a few as professionals, but most in business. Over the years many have joined the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation and currently form about 80% of the membership.
An-depth historical account has been written as a tribute to the NHC Centennial in “Glimpse of the Jews of Kenya” 1904-2004.
“Glimpses of the Jews of Kenya” is available for purchase at the synagogue.
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