Hannie Kiprono Biwott reflects upon her efforts to restore the Jewish cemetery in Nairobi. Beginning in the early days of the twentieth century, a vibrant Jewish community made deep and lasting contributions to the rich, cultural mosaic of Kenya. Today, that population has dwindled dramatically and may soon belong to history. The synagogue and Jewish cemetery will be the last monuments to bear witness to its erstwhile existence.
In Hannie’s words:
“Although I had lived in Kenya since 1965, I did not make a serious effort to engage with the local Jewish community until the late seventies. My goal at that time was to ensure that my children would be exposed to a wide variety of cultural experiences. As a Dutch Jew, I believed – and still do – that every available cultural experience has its value in shaping a person’s character.
The community included Israelis who lived and worked in Kenya as well as Jews from a variety of nations who had made Kenya their home. I shall always be grateful to the community for welcoming me and my family into their world. In particular, there were two elderly women that I remember with great affection – Mrs. Rachel Szlapak and Mrs. Irene Dickenson. Both of them had experienced life in Europe and witnessed the birth of Kenya as an independent nation. These two ladies always stood by me with word and deed.
As the years went by, the Jews began to leave Kenya for a variety of reasons. Inevitably, my children also left. They studied abroad, married and raised families in distant lands. Today, their families are truly international and multicultural. I am proud of that fact. My husband Nicholas passed away and is buried on his ancestral land in the Keyo district. I have settled in Israel. Looking back over the years, the restoration of this monument – a symbol of a time and a place and a people – seemed worthwhile.”
Every available cultural experience has its value in shaping a person’s character.
– Hannie Biwott