African Hebrew Israelites

American black community finds spiritual home in the Negev.

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The Prophetic Priesthood, the body of men responsible for administering spiritual needs of the community also read psalms to women during pregnancy and labor, counsel couples considering marriage, officiate weddings, conduct Sabbath services, and perform circumcisions on the male children. Fasting, for all older than 13 years old, is part of the community's mandatory Sabbath observance, and considered part of their holistic approach to health.

Health and Wellness

It is here, in the arena of preventive health, that the African Hebrew Israelites have scored, perhaps, their most impressive success. They have virtually eradicated high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and obesity from their community. Indeed there have been no deaths in the community attributable to these diseases, which in the US disproportionally impact African-Americans.

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.

Working for Peace on Many Fronts

The Hebrews also participate in civic activities of the State of Israel. Since 2004, more than 125 of their youth have served in the Israel Defense Forces. Defending their homeland is viewed as a moral obligation, and other members of the community reach out to the neighboring Arab population. By virtue of their experience in overcoming prejudice, the group considers itself uniquely positioned to mediate disputes where ethnicity and other differences are at the root of social strife. A conflict resolution center, the Dr. Martin Luther King/SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference)-Ben Ammi Center for a New Humanity, opened in 2005.

Israel's Foreign Ministry considers the community a corps of goodwill ambassadors. They are particularly active throughout Africa. Today, the frictions that once characterized the community's relationship with the Israeli government and with Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox parties, who denied the community members were Jewish, are a distant memory.

Times may not have always been rosy for the community, but along the way, public praises have poured forth: the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus recognized them as a "miracle in the desert," and the Foreign Ministry's website calls them "a phenomenon in a land of phenomena."

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John L. Jackson Jr.

John L. Jackson, Jr. is the Richard Perry University Associate Professor of Communication and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He is an anthropologist and filmmaker currently working on a research project about global black/African Hebrewism.

Ahmadiel Ben Yehuda is a spokesperson and historian for the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem. Born and raised in Washington, DC, he has lived in Dimona since 1978. He is also executive director of the African/Edenic Heritage Museum's "Exploring the African Presence in the Promised Land," an exhibition documenting Hebrewisms and other connections of Africans to Israel.