Ugandan converts learn the Hebrew alphabet (illusttrative)
Ugandan converts learn the Hebrew alphabet (illusttrative)Reuters

A Ugandan who led a Birthright trip to Israel in September was denied a visa to study at a yeshiva in the country.

Asiimwe Rabbin, 28, had intended to participate in a program at the Conservative yeshiva in Jerusalem, but was told this week he would not get the required visa because Israel’s Interior Ministry does not recognize his community as Jewish, Haaretz reported. Last month, Rabbin led the first-ever Birthright trip for Jews from Uganda.

The Uganda community, also called Abayudaya, claims its roots go back to the early 20th century, when a former leader read the Bible and embraced Judaism. They converted in the early 2000s under the questionable auspices of a US Conservative rabbi, with the full knowledge that such a conversion would not be recognized by the Israeli rabbinate or the Interior Ministry.

They were, however, recognized by the Jewish Agency.

Rabbin’s program is sponsored by Masa, which brings young Jews from around the world to participate in programs in Israel. The organization’s executive director, Liran Avisar Ben Horin, told Haaretz that it had to heed the Interior Ministry’s rulings regarding visas.

“As Masa is subject to conditions set by the Interior Ministry in this regard, we were forced to turn down his request for a Masa visa,” she said.

The community, which is based in the rural town of Mbale, now boasts seven synagogues — including a 7,000-square-foot center that opened in 2016 — a mikvah and two Jewish schools.