“It is the music that makes us the Abayudaya:” The Cantors Assembly in Uganda

By :  Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary Posted On Apr 29, 2021 | Musical Journeys with The Library of JTS

An online discussion with Dr. Amanda Ruppenthal Stein and Hazzan Jeremy Stein 

In winter 2019, members and affiliates of the Cantors Assembly traveled to Uganda on a mission of solidarity, learning, and peoplehood with the Abayudaya Jewish community. This trip was in recognition of the centennial celebration of leader Semei Kakungulu’s declaration that he and his people would align themselves with the Jewish people.

Trip participants Dr. Amanda Ruppenthal Stein and Hazzan Jeremy Stein discuss the experiences by the CA mission’s participants including the gifting of a sefer Torah to the central synagogue at Nabugoye Hill and musical learning in the various communities of the region. The singing of the Jews of Uganda both unites them and allows each of the different synagogues to express their own unique voices. Psalm singing in Luganda, the Bantu language spoken in the African Great Lakes region, is the core repertoire of the Abayudaya liturgy. Hazzan Stein and Dr. Stein share studio and field recordings and offer attendees a glimpse of the importance of music in ritual and daily life for this flourishing part of klal Yisrael.

Dr. David Kraemer, Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian and professor of Talmud and Rabbinics, JTS, served as moderator.

This series was co-sponsored by The JTS Library and the Lowell Milken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.

About Dr. Amanda Ruppenthal Stein

Musicologist Amanda Ruppenthal Stein, Ph.D. is lecturer in music at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. A recent graduate of the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University, she specializes in Jewish identity in art music of 19th century German-speaking Europe.  In 2019, Amanda traveled twice to Uganda to conduct fieldwork in collaboration with a solidarity mission and recording project of the Cantors Assembly, celebrating 100 Years of the Abayudaya Jewish community in Uganda.

About Hazzan Jeremy Stein

Hazzan Jeremy Stein serves Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid in Milwaukee, WI. He is currently working on a Haggadah supplement to tell the 100-year history of the Abayudaya through the lens of the Passover Seder. In the spring, he is releasing an album of new original music for Havdalah as a benefit for Jewish summer camps.