Today there are several thousand members of
the Rusape-based Jewish community.
The chief “overseer” of the Rusape community is Ambrose Mukawaza, a powerful man in his mid-70s. The community’s primary
tabernacle is perched on the side of
a rolling, green mountain overlooking the
sprawling lake that bounds the village. The more
than a hundred Jews of Rusape pack the tiny
building every Sabbath to practice their own form
of spiritual Judaism.
The Rusape community practices “prophetic” Judaism, meaning that the community believes that while Jesus was not the Messiah, he was certainly a prophet, as was the Reverend William S. Crowdy who inspired the community’s current embrace of Judaism. Despite this difference, Western Jews would readily identify with the community’s holidays (Shabbat to Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Succot, etc.), its prayer services (primarily read in English, patterned after the Rabbinical prayer service that Jews use throughout the Western world), and its daily observances, such as kashrut. The community also practices some rituals according to the customs of their neighbors, such as circumcision which, as local Muslims do as well, the Rusape Jews perform at about ten years old.
The Rusape congregation is connected with the prophetic congregation Beth El from Northern Virginia, and has developed its culture of observance based at least in part upon the American branch’s Southern Baptist-inspired roots. This convergence of African, American and Ancient Hebrew culture comes together in the stunning synagogue choir, almost forty congregants strong, which fills each service with joyous, moving prayers in Shona, Hebrew and English set to beautiful African melodies.
“Cohen” Makuwaza’s sermons insist that while the community respects the teachings of Jesus, Jesus was, in fact a Jew, who followed ancient Jewish rituals and was a dedicated member of the Jewish community.
The Rusape Jews believe that their local Shona tradition and culture comes from the same ancient Hebrew community, and that their ancestors brought Judaism from the Promised Land southward over a thousand year trek along the eastern coast of Africa. To the Rusape community, there is little difference between ancient African observance and ancient Jewish culture. Today they struggle to live both to the fullest.
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