The Man Who Leads the Jewish Community in Arusha, Tanzania

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When you conjure up Mount Kilimanjaro and the Serengheti desert, it’s hard to picture a Jewish community residing nearby. And yet, there they are – the Mayanot Yehudim (Mayahudim) community of Arusha, Tanzania. Not only are they 70-people strong, their leader, Peres Parpaih, is so committed to guiding the kehilla in Torah-true ways, that he learns six days a week with Rabbi Yerachmiel Landy of Passaic, New Jersey.

While Parpaih lives in the Arusha Province, about 75 miles from the Kenyan border, his Jewish community is surrounded by Muslims and Christian missionaries. It has been there for generations, as the current population are descendants of Yemenite and Moroccan Jews who moved there in the 1800’s.

The two custodians of the community since Peres was young were Peres’ father and a scholar who taught Torah. But then Peres’ father passed away, and the Torah teacher silently sold his farm and disappeared. Without their longtime leaders, a Torah (destroyed in the 1970s in fights between the Christian evangelicals and the Jewish community), or a synagogue (nationalized and turned into a church), they were at a loss as to how to continue. Parpaih had a vision, faith, a deep-seated commitment to his community, conviction to move it forward, and a visceral need to learn.

An attorney and professor in the local university, Parpaih had some Jewish education, but he felt limited. He reached out to Partners in Torah to find a mentor who could guide him in his role as leader of the Jewish community of Arusha. Parpaih and his study partner, Rabbi Yerachmiel Landy, only skip their regular learning on Shabbos. Otherwise their daily learning seder consists of Jewish law, parsha, Midrash, and Hebrew. “I am now stronger and more confident in my knowledge,” explains Parpaih. “When I teach, I am assured that I am teaching the right thing.” Rabbi Landy is planning a trip to visit Parpaih and his community, and his visit is eagerly awaited. “It will be great when he comes! We will be so honored! We have no rabbis in our community; I am the [only] Rabbi in my community.”

With three young daughters, ages 2, 7 and 10 Parpaih has some concern about where they will get their Jewish education and eventually find husbands. Some members of the community have relocated to Israel, but Parpaih himself isn’t going anytime soon. “The community here needs us; they are not very well educated. They’re scared of immigrating, so we try to develop them here; we try to strengthen them where they are. As leader of the community, I can’t leave. They will have no one.” While this would be a claustrophobic situation for most people, for Parpaih, he accepts it as his mission and purpose. Despite any feelings of apprehension or fear, he instead meets it with rock-solid faith. “I read the Midrash so I have no fear. Joseph and Abraham had no fear, so I don’t either.”

Parpaih and his community may be isolated physically, but they are certainly connected spiritually. With his connection to Rabbi Landy and a daily seder to aid him, he is never far from the the greater kehilla of committed Jews around the world. “We love the worldwide Jewish community, and we will return home – to Israel – when the time is right.”

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  • Avatar Stuart Avrick says on July 8, 2018

    We are traveling to Arusha around the Jewish Holidays and would like to know if there are serves anywhere there Who and how do we contacts

    Reply
    • Avatar Peres says on December 9, 2018

      Dear Mr Stuart and the family, the community here would like to thank you for taking your time and come to spend time with us during the holiday, and more for your good heart and love, by helping us to expand our Bet Knesset chamber, which is now almost in it completion, whereby women section will be a bit bigger.

      Thank you Partner in Torah and all those involved, without forgetting our great Rabbi, Rabbi Landy.

      Thank you again Mr Stuart and the family. We still remember your words, “ I am so happy to know that we have extended family in Tanzania” -Stuart

      Chag Sameach

      Peres Parpaih (Yehudah Amir )

      Reply
  • Avatar Peres parpai says on September 1, 2018

    Waooh thank you so much Sarah for a great story and thank you Partners in Torah, for blowing the Shofar, to connect us to our Jewish world, though we always wanted to be so humble and secretive. תודה רבה לעבודה גדולה now we are no longer a tiny Island in the ocean of Goyim world.
    Shana Tovah to all.

    Peres parpai (Yehudah Amir)

    Reply
    • Avatar Mark says on October 14, 2018

      Hi I’m based in Moshi. I didnt realise there was a Jewish community so close. Can you send me your contacts?

      Reply
    • Avatar Jeff Glanstein says on December 9, 2018

      Chazak v’ematz. I appreciate your efforts and applaud your use of the tools at hand. Years ago there was no Partners in Torah. Even Long Distance calls were expensive. The book, the Jewish Catalog was the secular Jew’s resource to a world that they never knew existed. I am happy for you; try to get a Kollel to move in, the level of yiddishkeit will be changed forever. All the best Rochamim Glanstein Woodbourne, NY

      Reply
      • Avatar Peres parpai says on October 21, 2019

        Rochamim Todah raba, I appreciate your kind word

        Yehuda Amir Kahalani ( Peres Parpaih)

        Reply
  • Avatar Judy Ben Nachum says on September 28, 2019

    I am from Israel. I am teaching in the Cheti school in Arusha and I am living in Sakini. Are you having Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur services in Arisha? May i come?

    Reply
    • Avatar Peres parpai (Yehudah Kahalani Amir says on October 18, 2020

      Hi Judy

      It took so long time to see your message Incase you are still in Arusha this is our Bayit al Salaa (Shalem Shabazi Beit Knesset) number +255786683888 Whatsapp only

      Reply
  • Avatar Wamuwi Isaac Changani says on November 9, 2019

    So grateful. I have sent you an email with my contact details !

    Reply

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