It takes a community to make a wedding. Rabbin Asiime, 30, and Rivka Nabulo, 23, are grateful to the Masorti (Conservative) community in Jerusalem for making their wedding and for making all the arrangements in less than 24 hours. They started planning the wedding on Thursday night, rested on Shabbat, and the ceremony took place that Saturday night, January 4, 2020.
Rabbin and Rivka are members of the Uganda Jewish community, the Abayudaya. They had come to Jerusalem to study at the Conservative Yeshiva – Rivka for one semester and Rabbin for two. Rivka had to return to Africa on Sunday, January 5, 2020.
Two thousand members of the Abayudaya community live in rural villages in eastern Uganda near the city of Mbale. Five rabbis from the Conservative movement (known as Masorti in Israel), went to this region in 2002, and formally converted approximately 400 of the Abayudaya to Judaism. (In 2016, the Jewish Agency for Israel recognized the community. However, the community is still not recognized as Jewish by the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate of Israel.)
Neither Rabbin nor Rivka was born Jewish, and neither family was involved in the conversion process. Rabbin explains: “It was an individual choice.” In the process of becoming Jewish, Rabbin met Rivka. They became friends in a program organized by native-born Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, who had been ordained by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the Conservative movement.
Rabbin continues: “It was important to me to marry a Jewish girl, and when I was 24, I asked Rivka to be my girlfriend. But she was seven years younger than me, and not yet ready. Actually, for three months, she didn’t speak to me. But finally, after a year she agreed. In 2017, Rivka introduced me to her mother and we received her mother’s blessings.”
“In our community, that’s like a green light for starting the process towards marriage. And that’s when we moved in together, giving us some time to get used to each other. Rivka was happy that I shared household duties with her, including cooking, cleaning and washing. We are both equal in the eyes of Hashem.”
“There are also financial reasons for some wait-time before a civil marriage – weddings can be expensive and a groom must save enough money to pay a dowry to the bride’s family.”
Rabbin smiles: “But there was no reason to wait for the religious ceremony, and we thank Rabbi Andy Sacks for offering to host a religious ceremony in Jerusalem. Rabbi Sacks, current director of the Masorti Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, was one of the rabbis who went to Uganda in 2002 to set up a Bet Din (rabbinical court) for the Abayudaya.
The couple liked Rabbi Sacks’s idea, but had to wait for formal permission from Rivka’s parents. When it finally came, the community went to work and put together the wedding.
Everything was ready in time: the venue, the Masorti Congregation, Moreshet Avraham; the chuppa, ketubah, caterer, music; the bride’s gown, the groom’s suit and kittel (white robe); the ring, and even cufflinks from their friend Yosef. Most importantly, more than 70 guests celebrated with the bride and groom.
Rabbi Sacks officiated. “Rabbin and Rivka are committed to both Zionism and to their own Jewish community in Uganda. I am proud that the couple hopes to return to leadership roles in the years ahead to strengthen an already amazing Jewish community.”
Rabbin notes: “After our civil marriage in Uganda, we plan to combine our two names, Rivka and Rabbin, and take on a new family name – Rivbin.”
Dr. Leah Hakimian currently researches the question: How Jewish couples meet and marry. In the 90’s she founded two nonprofit Jewish matchmaking programs, and continues to champion the role of community in helping singles meet. She resides in Jerusalem and Great Neck, New York.