By Mordechai Lightstone Chabad.org
Rwanda, one of the smallest countries on the African mainland, is marked by a history of violence and genocide. To aid its struggling, mostly rural, landlocked population, its small but rapidly growing Jewish community includes men and women assisting with poverty relief, health care and economic development. Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, for example, is an Israel-based NGO that works with vulnerable and orphaned children, drawing inspiration from how Israel helped Jewish orphans after the Holocaust.
With the vision of serving the fledgling Jewish community’s spiritual needs, Rabbi Chaim and Dina Bar Sella, are set to open a new Chabad center in Kigali that will include the nation’s first synagogue, served by the country’s first permanent rabbi. Previously, yeshivah students affiliated with the “Roving Rabbis” program offered ad-hoc Jewish events, mainly for tourists.
The couple, with their 8-month-old son Shneur Zalman in tow, will serve under the auspices of Chabad of Central Africa, led by Rabbi Shlomo Bentolila in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. The Rwanda center will be the ninth Chabad center in central Africa. Their appointment was made possible through the efforts of Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice Chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
In their first week alone, the Bar Sellas have already been able to gather a minyan of Jews for Shabbat prayers. The rabbi, however, stresses that there is much work still to be done.
“We look forward to meeting the needs of everyone here,” he says, “from humanitarian workers helping those in need to businesspeople taking part in Rwanda’s developing its economy.”
On the docket for upcoming programs are Torah classes for men and women, mitzvah opportunities and programing for children
Israel Ambassador Excited by Chabad Presence
The Bar Sellas have spent some time in Africa, including a stint last High Holidays helping the Chabad emissaries in Lagos, Nigeria, as well as in Kampala, Uganda.
Ron Adam, the newly appointed Israeli Ambassador to Rwanda, is among those excited that the Bar Sellas will be making the African nation their home.
“When I opened the new embassy here, the first thing I decided to do is to request Rabbi Bentolila to help me establish a Beit Chabad,” said Adam. “Now that Chaim and Dina have come, I’m very happy. We’ve become a team!”
The Bar Sellas recently helped Adam put a mezuzah up at his office.
“Moving from my family and community in Israel to Rwanda, a developing country where one can’t run away from the difficulties, has helped me appreciate the privileges I grew up with,” says Dina Bar Sella. “Yet here we see the great needs we’re meeting and the dema