The kids of Young Israel of Jamaica Estates in Queens have found new friends in Abayudaya, Uganda’s Jewish community, thanks to a congregant who cares deeply for both.
Jamaica Estates native D’vora Biderman visited the collection of villages in Eastern Uganda upon graduating from NYU with a degree in dental hygiene to volunteer her services through the ADA Foundation’s Abayudaya Dental Expedition. She chose that particular program because it accommodated her observance of Shabbat and kashrut, and in her time there discovered a vibrant Jewish community complete with synagogues, Jewish schools and even a post-high school yeshiva for continued learning.
“I wanted to tie everything in, between traveling and volunteering and doing dentistry,” she says. “Finding the Abayudaya Jewish community was a huge plus because I was able to connect with them on a religious level, and it was just amazing …I fell in love with this community.”
She shared that love with her synagogue and other Jewish organizations through a video about her trip and speaking engagements, raising $26,000 and returning to Abayudaya this past January with 9 suitcases full of toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, and other essential tools to help prevent dental diseases.
In April, Rebbetzin Karen Hochberg of Young Israel of Jamaica Estates suggested dedicating the synagogue’s monthly Family Mitzvah Morning to the cause.
“I was like, ‘I don’t know how we can tie it in in a dental way, because how do you decorate a toothbrush?’” Biderman laughs.
Instead, the young attendees constructed necklaces and decorated sling bags and beach balls with warm greetings as prizes to reward Biderman’s young patients after their cleanings.
Biderman sent the goodies to Abayudaya along with cameras so that they would be able to see their mitzvah in action. When her friend Susie, who happens to be the niece of Abayudaya leader Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, recently sent back videos of kids wearing the necklaces, playing with the beach balls, and saying thank you, the youth of Young Israel were “ecstatic,” she says.
“Usually you just do something and you donate it but you never see a reaction.”