May 22 - Film Premiere: Moving Heaven and Earth - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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May 22 - Film Premiere: Moving Heaven and Earth

Main Content
Thursday, May 1, 2003

Film Premiere: 
Moving Heaven and Earth

Producer/Writer/Narrator: Debra Gonsher Vinik
Camera/Editor: David Vinik

Thursday, May 22, 2003, 6:30 PM

Admission Free, Photo ID required for entrance

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
One West 4th Street (between Broadway and Mercer Street)
New York City

On a Saturday morning, near Wagagai, the fourth tallest mountain peak in East Africa, one expects to see many things. Perhaps an elephant, a buffalo, giant heather, bamboo forests or a spectacular waterfall. Perhaps brightly dressed Ugandan citizens on their way to an outing. What you do not expect is a steady stream of men, women and children beside elders with walking sticks, making their way to a synagogue for a prayer service. But that is exactly the case of the Abayudaya, (Lugandan for Jews) a tribe that has been practicing Judaism for over eighty years.

Rabbi Simeon Ben Yohai, oft considered the author of the Zohar wrote that "proselytes are dearer to God than Jewish saints." And certainly, the Abayudaya of Uganda must fall into that category. In 1919, following the guidance of their leader, a local governor named Semei Kakungulu, the tribe adopted all the observances of Judaism including circumcision at birth. In the 1970s, even in the face of rampant anti-Semitism under the reign of Idi Amin exemplified by torture and murder, many of the tribe held fast to Jewish practice and beliefs. In the 1980s with the help of the outside Jewish community from Israel and the United States, a number of small synagogues were built and a Torah donated.

Today the Abayudaya keep kosher according to Talmudic Law, (including abstinence from pig products), attend to the Jewish calendar of holidays and study the week's parshah. And at the beginning of February of 2002, a Beit Din made up of three rabbis from the United States (Rabbi Howard Gorin, Rabbi Scott Glass and Rabbi Joseph Prouser) and one from Israel (Rabbi Andrew Sacks) along with rabbinical student Moshe Cotel went to this community in Uganda. There, over a period of six days, they converted over 300 Abayudaya, welcoming them into the community of world Jewry.

This documentary records this momentous event as well as examines the difficult question: “Who is a Jew?” For although the Abayudaya have completed the halachic requirements, including an interview with a Beit Din, a symbolic circumcision and a mikveh or ritual immersion, many in the Jewish community still will not accept them as Jews.

The documentary was shot in Uganda and New York by Debra Gonsher Vinik and David Vinik of Diva Communications, Inc., a video production company specializing in documentary programming.

For further information about the premiere call 212-824-22293 or

To find out more about Moving Heaven and Earth, visit

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.