A Shona Tabernacle
Such joyous harmonies are not often found traditional Jewish choirs. Then again, the Rusape Jews are not members of a traditional Jewish community. The Jewish community centered in Rusape, Zimbabwe, claims both ancient and contemporary origins. According to community lore, the Shona people, a Bantu group that had migrated to Southern Africa from the north, were actually Jews. The community compares traditional symbols, burial rites, circumcision patterns, marriage customs and agricultural practices to those of the ancient Israelites.
The community's more contemporary origin is equally surprising. In the 1880s, a former American slave and Baptist deacon named William Saunders Crowdy had a "visitation" from God who told him that he should lead black people to Judaism. "Prophet" Crowdy understood that his being black and openly Jewish could scare people away from his mission so he started a church and named it the "Church of God and the Saints of Christ."
"In the early 1900s, an African visitor brought Crowdy's teachings back from America. Today there are several thousand members of Crowdy's Jewish community spread across Central Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia. While some Church of God members have been reluctant to abandon prayers invoking Jesus, the Rusape group no longer considers Jesus the Messiah. They contend that all men are Sons of God - not just Jesus - and attempt to follow the Old Testament the way they believe Jesus did.
Today the Rusape community has begun to connect with Western visitors who have provided them with Jewish objects and have encouraged them to pursue their Jewish studies. Despite the uncertain political climate in Zimbabwe, the Rusape Jews are no longer afraid that they must hide their religion. They claim that they are Jews today, and that their past and future are with the Jewish people.
Jay Sand visited the Jews of Rusape in September, 2000, and will present them in vivid text, alongside photographs that Sandy Carter has took during a visit, in Scattered Among the Nations.