The Story of a Literary Giant
Eitai B.N. Aharon
KNN Sr. Editor
A late product of the baby-boom generation Odehyah Baht Israel was born on September 5th in Washington DC. Reared in a working class neighborhood, Odehyah graduated from DC’s public school system in 1969.
Shortly after graduation, the hopeful student set her sights on the Atlantic coast and enrolled in prestigious Douglass College in New Jersey, a part of the Rutgers University system. She majored in Anthropology and African Studies and was a student of world famous Rutgers University professor Ivan Van Sertima. Van Sertima, a distinguished member of the Department of African Studies at Rutgers, was the editor of The Journal of African Civilization but is probably more widely recognized as the author of the ground-breaking book, They Came before Columbus: the African Presence in Ancient America. This seemingly inconsequential encounter with the illustrious professor and writer would profoundly influence and somehow, forecast the direction of Odehyah’s evolving career path.
In 1973, Odehyah was interviewed by a recruiter from Doubleday Book Publishing. The woman was so impressed with the bright young applicant that she immediately offered Odehyah an internship with the historic publisher. Doubleday is home to many of the world’s most distinguished editors and writers. Foremost among these world-renowned figures is 1907 Nobel Prize recipient Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is listed among Doubleday’s most notable editors. A brief but fascinating summer internship turned into a permanent position with this legendary book publisher.
During a two-year stint at Doubleday, Odehyah quickly advanced through the ranks, eventually settling in as Assistant Manager of the company’s Publicity Department.
It was in this capacity that, in 1976 a seemingly innocuous first acquaintance with yet another celebrated author would significantly impact and work to set the course of her young life.
It was in August of 1976 that Doubleday published the autobiographical novel Roots: the Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley. Haley was visiting the Doubleday facility to organize his upcoming national publicity tour when he momentarily stopped to chat with the rookie assistant manager at her desk.
“During my brief encounter with Alex Haley, I jokingly suggested that I should accompany him on his upcoming publicity tour. What I didn’t know was that although I was joking – Alex Haley was not!!”
Inspired by his brief encounter with the eloquent young manager, Haley at once met with Odehyah’s superiors and immediately signed her up for a whirlwind multi-city publicity tour to promote Roots!!
Odehyah remembers that the tour experience was nearly beyond description!! Most African Americans can give personal testimony of the awesome impact that the autobiographical Roots saga had on their lives at that time. The dramatic tale touched a core deep within the African American soul. The primetime television mini-series quickly followed the distribution of the novel, marking the first time that African American history was rendered from Africa to captivity and slavery in America. The Roots phenomenon to some degree served to aid African Americans in their struggle to reconnect with and reclaim their much expurgated history. Ahkote Odehyah played a small but notable role in that great event.
In 1976 Odehyah left Doubleday and headed west for California sunshine. She worked briefly in the television industry as a writer’s assistant for TOY Productions, a small production company in Los Angeles headed by several prominent television producers, Saul Turteltaub, Bernie Orenstein and Bud Yorkin. TOY produced the popular but short-lived 70’s TV sitcom What’s Happening as well as the long-running hit series Sanford and Son starring the legendary comedian Redd Foxx.
Odehyah had always demonstrated an instinctive flair and aptitude in writing and editing. In 1977 her extensive work at Doubleday and TOY would prove to be worthwhile when she was hired by Essence Magazine as the publication’s West Coast Editor.
At this point, it is hard to imagine that things could get much more interesting for this DC native. Her improbable journey had taken her from her unpretentious east coast beginnings all the way to Los Angeles, California. However, the very next year things would indeed get far more interesting for Ahkote Odehyah,
“In the fall of 1978, I got a call from Motown exec Iris Gordy. Iris was aware of the African Hebrew Israelite community and thought it would make an intriguing article for Essence. She invited me to her office and that’s where I first met Prince Asiel, Nasik Elkanon, Sar Eliyahoo and Ahtur Ahkiezer. The rest is Kingdom history.”
Unfortunately, Essence decided not to run the article on the African Hebrews, but Odehyah maintained contact with her royal acquaintances. In the fall of 1980 she was invited to the Holy Jerusalem Writers Conference in Israel. Although she couldn’t make it in time for that great event, Odehyah eagerly accepted the invitation to visit Israel and booked a flight to the land of her ancestors.
On the long flight to the Holy Land Odehyah certainly must have wondered exactly how she had arrived at this particular moment in her life. Absent the element of divine predestination, it is impossible to comprehend how an Anthropology major from a residential college had somehow landed on a career path that would eventually lead to a senior position with one of the nation’s premier publications. And then here she is going to a place where the vast majority of Africans in America and the world – would never dream of visiting. Nevertheless, it would be in Israel that the apparently incongruous events of Odehyah’s extraordinary life adventure would finally be resolved. For it was on this trip that Odehyah would meet Ben Ammi and Nasik Shaleak, for the first time.
“The sacred visitation led by Nasik Shaleak was life altering for me. It was on this trip that the historical pieces of the puzzle were put together. Nasik Shaleak showed me how Alex Haley’s Roots was only part of Black people’s story, going beyond the shores of West Africa and including not just a connection to Africa but an ancestral link to the Holy Land and the Almighty Father. Nasik taught that as His chosen people, our mission was more than just living mundane, 9 to 5 lives but understanding our special charge as God’s chosen.”
In the sitting with Ben Ammi, Odehyah’s realization of why the community of Hebrews had come to leave America and settle in Israel became even clearer. These two encounters would set into motion a course of events that would have a profound impact on the expansion and development of the Kingdom.
Upon meeting Odehyah, the Holy Father was struck by the young woman’s impressive résumé – especially as it related to her experience in the field of publishing. Abba had recently given a dissertation entitled “The Power to Define” which he planned to have published. He believed that Odehyah could ply her professional dexterity to help accomplish that task. Sometime later Odehyah would accept the challenge of editing the document. That seminal manuscript ultimately evolved into a much larger and more ambitious literary undertaking entitled “God the Black Man and Truth” published in 1982!!
Having relocated to Israel soon after her initial introduction to the Kingdom, Ahkote Odehyah not only assumed the laborious task of editing the entire book but wrote the Foreword and the Introduction as well. Odehyah’s work on “The Power to Define” document was only the first chapter in the editing of the entire book “God the Black Man and Truth” that commenced a very close and enduring collaboration between herself and the Holy Father. Odehyah would eventually serve as the line editor for all nine books in the phenomenal and earth-shaking Resurrection Series!!
“Working so closely with Abba Rahbee over the years – from 1981 to 2006 -- helping to carve his inspired writings into the profound, life-changing teachings they are, has been one of the greatest and most rewarding experiences anyone could ever want. And to have the opportunity for my name and my writings to appear with his means I am indelibly linked to this great teacher and leader.”
In the early eighties Odehyah joined forces with Nasiyk Gavriel Ha-Gadol and the two began the preliminary work on a manuscript that would ultimately become the biographical work on the community “The Impregnable People”. This extensive process would span nearly a decade. Work on this book continued on even through one of the Nation’s most intense and harrowing periods of the 90’s – The Gulf War (January 1990). During this extremely problematic period Odehyah was also assisting the Father with work on two foundational books, “God and the Law of Relativity” and “Messiah and the End of this World”!! She continued to support the development of each of these complex literary masterpieces even as Scud missiles flew overhead!!
“This was a very stressful time for all the Saints! On numerous occasions we would be told to pull on a gas mask, secure the windows and doors with heavy plastic and tape to protect us from Saddam Hussein’s Scud missile attacks.”
However, she laughingly adds,
“All the while the Father would ask me, ‘Odehyah, are you done with that assignment yet?? War or no war, Abba Rahbee expected me to continue editing his writings during this time. Even in a crisis such as this, getting the message of the Holy Father out was crucial. It helped me to realize how vital these writings were to saving Yah’s people.”
Thankfully those nerve gas attacks were never successfully effectuated and her work for Abba as well as work on “The Impregnable People” proceeded unabated. At long last the book was completed in 1992. Now the single remaining step of this extended literary process was to get the book published. So in 1992 Odehyah returned to the states to visit her parents and submit the “The Impregnable People” manuscript for publication. It was on this trip that the idea came to her to turn the Impregnable People saga into a movie.
Years earlier the historic Roots saga vividly chronicled the plight of Africans from their African homeland to captivity and enslavement in the Americas. Correspondingly, The Impregnable People historical narrative records the details of the African Hebrew Israelites valiant return home. The Roots television mini-series followed closely on the heels of the publication and distribution of the book making television history and successfully raising the consciousness of an entire generation. The tale of The Impregnable People represents a powerful next step in the restoration of the identity of a people. It was the awesome hand of the Almighty that placed Odehyah Baht Israel at the epicenter of these historic literary and cultural phenomena.
Now she would begin the arduous process of turning the book into a movie. As He had done so often in times past, Yah would powerfully guide Odehyah in the direction of her divine destiny. In 1994 Odehyah settled in New York City and for the next three years she worked for Home Box Office (HBO), and was blessed to have her NYU courses in film production and screen writing paid for by HBO. Sometime later Odehyah started to develop the script for the embryonic Impregnable People movie project.
Today, The Impregnable People movie has been brought to the finishing stages of its development. With a hefty assist from accomplished film director Ahkote Roneyah, the movie script has been polished and is currently being shopped for production.
“It is a powerful story that must be shared with the world. With Yah Almighty’s blessings, we will raise the money to produce it or find a producer who understands the magnitude and power of this awesome story,” she says.
This ambitious and culturally significant motion picture venture will stand as the crowning achievement in a life marked by uncompromised commitment and extraordinary valor. The exceptional life of Ahkote Odehyah Baht Israel is truly a Profile in Courage.