Too close for comfort in Nairobi

1 Oct

Here’s an extract from an op-ed I wrote in The New York Jewish Week recently discussing the same theme as Baptism by Fire in Nairobi, my last post on this blog:


Too Close For Comfort In Nairobi

Tight-knit, eclectic Jewish community on edge.

Mon, 09/23/2013

Nairobi, Kenya — As the terrorist attack enters its third endless day at Westgate, an upscale mall in the center of the city, with the death toll reaching 70, and the terrorists still holed up with an unknown number of hostages, I sit in my new home glued to the television and wondering just how on earth I ended up here.

It all started innocently enough. My husband, Brachyahu, and I were eating out in Manhattan with friends. One was a Kenyan Jew, Mark, born and raised in Nairobi, now living in New York City. In the course of the conversation, Brachyahu mentioned that he had almost completed his four-year rabbinical training at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in Riverdale, and was looking for a community rabbi position.

The rest, as they say, is history. Half in jest, Mark said that his parents’ community back home, the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation (NHC), the city’s only synagogue, was on the lookout for a new rabbi. I replied, half in jest, “Oh, how about Brachyahu becoming your new rabbi?” One thing led to another — Skype calls, meetings in New York, a trial visit in June — then a job offer.

And now here we are, less than one month into our new life in Nairobi, and to say that we’ve been thrown in at the deep end would be an understatement. Settling into a new city, country, and continent is not easy at the best of times. But combine that with the synagogue’s High Holy Days “peak-season” and its heavy load of concomitant rabbinical duties, and now, the pastoral responsibilities for the entire Jewish community suffering the aftershocks of the Westgate attack, as well as having to deal with our own fears.

Luckily, all community members have been accounted for since the attack. This is in no small part thanks to the bar mitzvah of an Israeli diplomat’s son taking place at the synagogue at the time of the attack on Shabbat. Many secular Israelis, who rarely come to synagogue, attended the celebration; very likely, some of them would have been at Westgate otherwise, the mall with its classy cafés and boutiques being a favored hangout for Israelis and other expat communities on the weekend.


Click here to read the full piece on The Jewish Week website:


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