American black community finds spiritual home in the Negev
By John L. Jackson, Jr.
and Ahmadiel Ben Yehuda
African Hebrew Israelites, often referred to as Black Hebrews, are the largest organized group of African-American expatriates living anywhere in the world. The African Hebrew Israelites are the followers of Ben Ammi Ben Israel, who they believe received a vision in 1966 in which he was directed to return African-American descendants of the ancient Israelites to the Promised land, and to establish the long-awaited Kingdom of God on earth.
By 1967, Ben Ammi convinced approximately 400 African-Americans (largely from Chicago) to leave, America (known as the "Lands of the Great Captivity"), and travel to Israel. The first group of "returnees" arrived in Israel in 1969, after a brief sojourn in the wilderness of Liberia.
The movement can be understood in the context of the "great awakening" to historical roots and cultural identity that African-Americans underwent in the 1960s. The Hebrew Israelites maintain their return was not just to their ancestral homeland of Israel (which they consider northeastern Africa), but to a way of life that would testify to the power of God.
While only approximately 3,000 saints (as they call themselves) reside in Israel, thousands live across the US, Caribbean, Europe and Africa and identify with the community, living according to their doctrinal tenets.
Members of the community are vegans. Tobacco, drugs, and alcoholic beverages aside from naturally fermented wines are avoided. Regular exercise (three times weekly) is mandatory for all adults, as is a monthly massage. No-salt days, sugarless weeks, and live food weeks dot their calendar. According to the community's belief system, the choice of relationships, clothing, and music all matter where health is concerned, and every effort is made to create an environment conducive to healing. This consciousness is woven into the lifestyle, resulting in an admired comprehensive health literacy. In 2006, Ghana's Ministry of Health summoned a team from Dimona to assist in the development of a health and nutrition program crucial to that West African country.
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