Rosh Kehilla: Dr Vera Somen

The Nairobi Hebrew Congregation continues to be a diverse and united, vibrant and welcoming centre to celebrate Jewish Life. Our mission is to “provide religious services, social, educational and cultural events, and support for the State of Israel.” The Kehilla has an active Council that with the co-operation of the Members maintains the Synagogue, Community Hall, grounds and two Cemeteries and ensures regular services all year as it has done since 1904.  Services are held every Friday evening and Shabbat morning and all High Holidays. The NHC publication, Shelanu, is now available by email and will soon be on a web site for an even wider readership.  

The Congregation shrunk by approximately 10 per cent in 2003, but is currently stable at 186 members made up of:

  • 110 Israeli members with about 78 children
  • 38 adults who are long-term residents and citizens of Kenya with 10 children
  • 10 adults including children from the Commonwealth and USA
  • 28 overseas members.


The Community marked the CENTENNIAL YEAR in the life of the Jewish Congregation in Kenya in October 2004 with a weekend of celebrations, beginning with Shabbat Friday evening Service followed by Shabbat dinners with the visiting guests hosted at the homes of members, Saturday Service Shabbat lech lecha with Centenary Drashas delivered by Dr. Rev Zeev Amit, a long term Spiritual inspiration and a past Minister to the NHC and Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, Spiritual Leader to the African Jewish Congress and followed by a sumptuous Kiddush in the gardens of the Synagogue.  A Gala Dinner Dance was held in the evening at a delightful venue on the outskirts of the city. The Guest of Honour was the Foreign Minister for Kenya, the Honourable Prof Ali Mwakwere, who also addressed the gathering, as did the Rosh Kehila, Dr. Vera Somen, Dr. David Silverstein, the Vice Rosh Kehilla and Mr. Mervyn Smith, President of the African Jewish Congress.


Thirteen South African delegates made a much-appreciated gesture of attending the celebrations. Their presence served to strengthen the relationship between the Kenya Community and the South African Community that have been linked since the early 1900s. A number of past members of the NHC came from overseas. The Centenary was also marked by the publication of a book, “Glimpses of the Jews of Kenya 1904 – 2004”, written by Cynthia Salvadori with contributions of text and photos from NHC members.  The book is a collector’s item. Copies are still available from the NHC. 

From September 2003 - August 2004, Shlichim Dudy and Limor Greenberg, a young couple from Israel, did an excellent job of maintaining cultural activities and religious services. The Congregation succeeds, sometimes, with difficulty in raising Minyans for all Services.  It is difficult to source and fund a suitable Rabbi and family to remain in office full time in Kenya, but we are greatly assisted by Rabbi Shlomo Bentolila, of the Chabad of East and Central Africa .who sends us Rabbi Chananya Rogalski and other young rabbis for all important religious occasions. Chananya was in Kenya for the Centenary Celebrations and for the High Holydays and returned to conduct the Communal Seder, attended by 93 members and guests. The food was prepared by a team headed by Tikva Seri, the wife of the Israeli Ambassador to Kenya, Dr. Vera Somen, the Rosh Kehilla, Gila Maimon, the Community Centre Co-ordinator, Barbara Steenstrup, Shelanu Editor, Maggie Jonsson, a long time Kenya Resident, assisted by Alonit, and the staff of various members and the Fairview Hotel team.   It was a great and enjoyable achievement for a small community in Africa.  

The Kenya Jewish Community has always had excellent relations with the Diplomatic Staff of the Israel Embassy, and the current team of His Excellency Emanuel Seri and his wife, Tikva, and the Consuls have been particularly helpful as The Ambassador and the First Consul are religious and play an important part in making up Minyans and leading studies of the Torah after Shabbat Services on Saturdays. The other Consul has stimulated many Community activities. The Embassy has also been very active in our Centenary Year and sponsored a Viola and Piano Concert by two Israeli international performers, Amihai Grosz and Yaron Rosenthal, who volunteered to play for us for this special occasion. The Embassy also sponsored a comedian for the Purim celebrations and participated in all organised events. Yom Ha Shoah and Yom Hazikaron were observed with special performances organised by the Embassy in co-operation with the Community, and the Embassy hosted the Yom Haztmaut reception at Intercontinental Hotel. The guest of Honour was The Honourable Raila Odinga, Minister of Roads and Transport and a leading figure in the Kenya Government. The event was well supported by the many invited guests and the community members, with partying till after midnight. 

There continued to be Security issues in 2003 and 2004, which made it difficult to organise successful functions, with many people preferring to celebrate occasions at private houses. But, the Community, with the advice and assistance of the Israel Embassy Security advisers were able to improve the security of the Community premises, and participation has improved.  The Jews of Kenya live happily alongside the diverse peoples and communities of the Country and look forward to another 120 years. 

Rosh Kehilla                             DR. VERA SOMEN     

Vice Chairman                          DR. DAVID SILVERSTEIN

Vice Chairman                          VAIZMAN AHARONI

Hon. Treasurer                         MARK ABBEMA

Hon. Secretary                         ADINAH ZOLA

Executive                                  HEINI L LUSTMAN

Executive and Trustee               CHARLES SZLAPAK

Trustee                                     MICHAEL L SOMEN