African Hebrew Israelites in Israel
In Israel, there is a community of African Hebrew Israelites (AHI). They are the descendants of a group of African Americans who came to Israel in the 1960s from Chicago. Their number is about 3,500 people, but thousands of AHI live in other countries around the world (Mintz par. 6). Although they regard themselves as Jewish, none of the branches of Judaism acknowledges them as such.
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The history of the community started in 1966 when their subsequent spiritual leader Ben Ammi had a revelation from the Archangel Gabriel who told him to return from America to the Holy Land (“About Us” par. 9). The members of the community founded by Ben Ammi believe that they are descendants of the Tribe of Judah, one of the ten lost tribes of ancient Israel. However, their relation to the tribe is not admitted by present-day Israel. AHI has experienced several confrontations with the state. For example, the community’s cemetery was destroyed in 2013 by local authorities based on the explanation that AHI is not Jewish (Diary of a Revolutionary). The remains were transferred to a suburban area with no indication of a burial site, which caused burning indignation of the community.
However, AHI adapted to living in Israel so that they could practice their customs. The community successfully uses present-day internet technologies to communicate with the rest of Israel and internationally about their lifestyle and traditions (Yehudah 180). AHI is polygamous and vegan, which they explain by directly following the instructions from the Old Testament (“About Us” par. 27). They only wear clothes made of natural fabrics like silk, cotton, linen, and wool. AHI practice circumcision of boys eight days after birth as well as isolation of women during menstruation and after childbirth. The period of isolation depends on the baby’s sex (Mintz par. 13): 40 days if a boy was born and 80 days if it was a girl. One of the distinctive customs of the AHI community is celebrating the exodus from the United States. Every year, two days in May are dedicated to festive outdoor activities in commemoration of this event. Many AHI comes to Israel in May for this celebration.
Apart from the exodus from America, AHI also celebrates Jewish holy days, one of which is Shavuot, the harvest celebration. One of the festive activities is dancing. Men and women dance separately. First, men dance in a large circle. They carry wooden sticks and give cries. Women stand at a distance and sing. Children participate, too (Orhof, “Dance for the Land 2”). Then, some of the dancers line up and hold one another’s stuck, which creates a continuous chain. After that, men go aside, and women start to dance in the same circle. Women’s dancing is different: they do not carry sticks, and their movements resemble those performed when reaping crops (Orhof, “Dance for the Land 3”). During the dances, everybody wears colorful outfits. The dancing is rhythmic and energetic. It represents the joy of collecting the harvest and the gratitude to the land.
Unlike many religious groups, the AHI community is quite open. In Israel, they operate several businesses that produce handmade utensils, pottery, and clothes (Mintz par. 9). Members of the community also manage a chain of vegan restaurants. Based on their genesis, identity, and customs, AHI has been studied by many anthropologists and ethnographers since the establishment of the community fifty years ago.
About Us: African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem 2016. Web.
Diary of a Revolutionary. “Breaking News on African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 2013. Web.
Mintz, Zoe. “Who Are The Black Hebrews? 3 Things To Know Since Spiritual Leader’s Death.” International Business Times. 2014. Web.
Orhof, Ori. “African-Hebrew-Israelite Community in Dimona, Israel – Dance for the Land 2.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 2014. Web.
Orhof, Ori. “African-Hebrew-Israelite Community in Dimona, Israel – Dance for the Land 3.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 2014. Web.
Yehudah, Miciah Z. “Thin Description: Ethnography and the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem.” Journal of Pan African Studies 7.8 (2015): 180-185. Print.