Posted in , on March 1, 2013

Peace and Poverty in Putti Village: Spotlight on David Epstein

It’s no surprise when an NCSYer who holds a position on regional board goes on to serve in more leadership positions—it’s practically inevitable. David Epstein, from the Albany Chapter of Upstate/Har Sinai NCSY, is no exception to that rule.

While David studied philosophy at the University of Chicago, he saw that the Hillel there was not responding strongly enough to the anti-Semitic activity on campus. Stepping in and taking the lead, David started an alternate student led organization to spread positive ideas about Jewish and Israeli identity.

His next initiative was an aliyah organization that helped Jews make aliyah before the existence of Nefesh B’Nefesh, the largest aliyah organization around now. David’s organization built some kibbutzim and villages in Israel, including the farming villages of Maaleh Shlomo and Mevo’ot Yericho.

In 1999, David received a letter from Enosh, one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Putti Village, Uganda stating that he heard about how David is helping people move to Israel and teaching farming there. He explained how he was part of a small kibbutz of Jewish farmers in Uganda who could really use his assistance. “It was a strange letter to receive, and I thought maybe it was spam, but I wrote back and we ended up exchanging letters frequently,” says David. “Our relationship evolved and pretty soon, I stopped working on my projects in Israel and focused mainly on Uganda.” David is currently the executive director (and founder!) of the Putti Village Assistance Organization. 

Unlike in Western society, the Christians, Muslims and Abudaya (Jewish tribe) in Putti Village coexist peacefully. They babysit each other’s children, grow their food together, and sing together. On one visit to Putti Village, David was sitting in the shade of a mango tree on a hot summer day with a few people drinking homemade beer. Within 40 minutes, there were 21 men sitting until the tree drinking beer, attracted by the presence of a white man. Together they discussed their hopes and dreams for how they envisioned the village to look in the future. Six hours later, 2 Christian villagers offered to donate all the land they own to the community for those facing poverty and starvation. “It was the most moving experience,” says David.

Despite the almost utopian society in Putti Village, there is also a lot of hardship there too. “Economic poverty is certainly real,” says David.  “Words don’t do it justice, and our mind can’t rly imagine. To walk through a slum and see thousands of emaciated children dying from totally preventable diseases because they don’t have access to medical care is a heart wrenching experience.”

David hopes that with his efforts and the help of volunteers, one day soon Putti Village will be able to afford to preserve their own resources and have a thriving, self-sufficient village that sets an example for the rest of the world on how peace is actually possible.