Jewish settlement in East Africa started at the turn of the 20th century, when the first Jewish families settled in Nairobi, then a labor camp and minor administrative center of the Uganda Railways. The area proposed to Herzl for Jewish settlement by the British colonial secretary Joseph Chamberlain in 1903 (the "*Uganda Scheme") is in present-day Ken ya. By 1913 there were 20 Jewish families in Nairobi and the first synagogue was built. World War II brought in its wake an in-flux of Jewish immigrants from Europe, many of them former inmates of Nazi camps. By 1945 the Jewish community in Kenya numbered about 150 families, the majority settling in Nairobi. Most Jews engaged in commerce or the free professions, and some were absorbed in the colonial administration. A landmark in the community's history was the arrival from Palestine in March 1947 of a trainload of detainees, members of the *Irgun Ẓeva'i Le'ummi and *Loḥamei Ḥerut Israel, who were placed in a detention camp in Gilgil. The Jewish community greatly assisted in improving their conditions. The new synagogue of the community, consecrated in 1955, is located in downtown Nairobi. By 1957 the community had reached a peak membership of 165 families. The president of the Board of Kenya Jewry, Israel Somen, was elected Nairobi's mayor. From 1957 the community decreased steadily and in 1968 totaled 113 families. The Nairobi congregation maintained a full-time rabbi who was also responsible for Jewish education. In 1968 the community maintained a Hebrew Aid Society and the ḥevra kaddisha ("burial society"). It had a Zionist organization from 1909, and a WIZO branch from 1944. In the early 21st century the community numbered around 400, with a Chabad rabbi officiating at the Nairobi synagogue.
Relations with Israel
From its independence, at the end of 1963, the government of Kenya and its leader Jomo Kenyatta displayed a friendly attitude toward Israel. Full diplomatic relations were established between the two countries. Israel maintains an embassy in Nairobi, while Kenya's diplomatic mission in Israel is handled by a nonresident ambassador. In 1966 the two countries signed an agreement for technical and scientific cooperation. Israel extended aid in the establishment, direction, and teaching of the Machakos School for Social Workers up to the stage at which the Kenyan government could take it over. Kenyan trainees participated in courses in Israel on agriculture, labor and cooperation, community development, and training of military officers and air cadets. In 1969 Israel exported $2,947,000 to Kenya and imported $793,000 worth of goods. Israel corporations expended $14,800,000 on highways, water-supply projects, housing, and office buildings through 1969. They also invested in small-scale industry, and El Al was a partner in the Hilton Hotel in Nairobi. Kenya has acted as a moderating factor in Israel issues within African forums.
Though Kenya broke off relations with Israel after the Yom Kippur War of 1973, trainees continued arriving, and during the Entebbe rescue operation in 1976, the Kenyan government allowed Israeli planes to refuel in its territory. Relations were resumed in 1988. In 2002 terrorists bombed the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel in Kikambala, killing 15, and then fired rockets at an El-Al plane taking off from Mombassa International Airport. The hotel was reopened in 2004 after a joint Kenyan-Israeli cleanup effort
J. Carlebach, The Jews of Nairobi 1903 – 1962 (1962), incl. bibl. See also bibliography on *Uganda Scheme.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.