The Burgeoning Black Jews of Africa

Course Number


Study Group Leader (SGL)

Jennifer Coplon


This course will take place virtually on Zoom. Participation in this course requires a device (ideally a computer or tablet, rather than a cell phone) with a camera and microphone in good working order and basic familiarity with using Zoom and accessing email

5-Week Course

April 2 - May 7. No Class April 23.


The number of Black Jews of Africa has been rapidly increasing over the past several decades. Why is this happening? The Falasha (now called Beta Israel) are often considered one of the Lost Tribes of Israel. The Abayudaya Jews of Uganda consider themselves converts from Malachite Christianity over 100 years ago. Now Black Jewish communities are sprouting up on the east and west coasts of Sub-Saharan Africa, in such countries as Uganda, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar. This course will explore Jewish communities in countries that are known for their burgeoning Black Jewish populations—how and why they came together and what their religious practices are. In some ways their Jewish expressions feel typically western, but in other ways, they seem  more African. We will hear from a member of one of these congregations as well as from a volunteer who helped organize the Madagascar Jewish community. We will also hear from Kulanu, the primary organization in the United States that supports the development of emerging Jews all over the world with both money and resources. We will consider the reaction of Israel and the West to the burgeoning Black Jews of Africa and consider the question of how we define who is a Jew. 

Group Leadership Style

Roughly the same amount of lecture and discussion.

Course Materials

Materials for the course will include articles and videos for both homework and class discussions. Two guest speakers, one a leader in a Black African Jewish community, and the other, an American volunteer who helped launch a new Jewish group in Madagascar, will offer material for the classes in which they present.

Preparation Time

 2-3 hours per week of reading and watching videos.


Jennifer Coplon has taught two courses at BOLLI on cultural masks and masquerades around the world, with a particular focus on Africa. On a social work study and service trip to Uganda in 2012, she spent a Shabbat weekend with the Abayudaya Jewish community in rural Uganda. Jennifer became intrigued with Black Jews living in Africa. Since that time, she has remained connected to the organization Kulanu, that provides support to emerging Jewish communities around the world. Jennifer has her PhD in social policy from Brandeis and has a particular interest in racial justice and diverse peoples around the world.