It was a few weeks ago that Richard Allen, a former New Yorker and longtime activist on behalf of the State of Israel called and asked me to accompany him and visit the Black Hebrew community in the city of Dimona in southern Israel; Richard has been a longtime supporter of Israel’s Black Hebrew community way before making Aliyah. Knowing that I couldn’t resist what would become a mini version of what’s known as a “road trip” in American standards, we set out on our journey.
As we parked the car in the community’s entrance, a modest sign above greeted us: “Welcome to the Village of Peace”. Manicured tropical gardens, well-maintained pre-fab homes and wooden huts; no cars, no noise, no litter on the pathways between the homes interspersed among communal buildings, and were all a part of this unique urban kibbutz type community in the heart of a town in the middle of Israel’s vast desert in the Negev. Being a former Bronx boy myself and growing up on New York’s “mean streets”, I immediately sensed that these former Black Americans were very different from Black Americans that I had encountered during my childhood.
Elyakim, a leader and senior member of the community, greeted us and invited us to join a tour of the community that he was conducting with a group of high school students from the center of the country. Over the course of a typical year, hundreds of groups from Israel and from abroad visit the community. He shared with his visitors how his community began and developed over the years. What began as a black power movement in Chicago during the 1960’s, embraced a 19th century movement based on the premise that African Americans were the true descendants of the biblical Children of Israel. In 1966, their spiritual leader Ben Ammi Ben Israel had a vision instructing him to lead his followers back to the Holy Land, and that Israel was the Promised Land. Till then the Black Hebrew Israelites had sought self-rule in the United States. In 1967, a few hundred members of Ben Ammi’s splinter group moved to Liberia “to purge themselves of the negative attributes they had acquired in the captivity” (from slavery to the modern era in America) while making plans to come to Israel. In 1968, Ben Ammi visited Israel with Keskeyahu Ben Israel, who eventually became the first community member to be granted Israeli citizenship. In August 1969, five families arrived unannounced from Liberia and were allowed entrance into the country. Since their arrival, community members have received Israeli citizenship, largely in part to their patriotism and communal spirit they have exhibited over the years. Today, the community boasts of close to 3000 members with the majority living in Dimona. 98% of the children brought up in the community serve in the Israel Defense Forces, and the community has received official recognition by the central government and municipal agencies. These ultimate symbols of formal acceptance into Israeli society are presented as a culmination of the community’s journey.
Elyakim shared his own personal journey to the community. Why did he leave America? Despite his academic degree and his successful career at Bethlehem Steel, he never was able to free himself from the shackles of racism that he encountered. For him, and blacks in general, America is one big “maximum security prison”. Only in Israel, “I have discovered who I am as a person”. Elyakim, a very youngish looking 75 year old whole heartedly believes in the communal guidelines for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. English is the spoken language and community members are required to cleanse themselves of all vices. Tobacco, alcohol, and drugs, cannot be found here. Exercise is mandatory every other day, a full-body massage every week, and a colonic irrigation every month. There is no private ownership of vehicles nor homes. Strict veganism, as prescribed in the book of Genesis, is observed and community members fast one day a week on the Sabbath in the belief that the body itself should perform as little work as possible on the day of rest. Community members wear a four braided blue cords in their clothing—another biblical injunction—and many if not most of the community, do not wear synthetic fabrics. Lastly, Elyakim is proud of the fact that as opposed to the Black American experience, the Black Hebrews in Israel have experienced zero cases of murder, rape, drug abuse, and homelessness. These long terms social ills of Black Americans simply don’t exist in their community here in Israel.
Prince Immanuel, a member of the community council and religious leader, and also serves as a National Spokesman and the Director of International Affairs. He is the chief political liaison for the community, engaging with government officials at the local and international level. His clarity concerning the religious character of the community highlights their unique identity. Prince Immanuel stressed that the Black Hebrews do not practice Judaism and do not claim to be Jews, but see themselves as Judeans; tribal cousins in the same national family. They read the Holy Torah, and practice the circumcision ritual on the eight day after the birth of a newborn, yet they do not pray three times a day as is customary in Judaism. The Prince shared an interesting revelation related to the health and wellbeing of community members. Studies by researchers from Vanderbilt University and Meharry Medical College have shown that community members in Israel have an extremely low level of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and obesity. For Black Americans, fast food restaurants are nothing more than weapons of mass destruction. The research disproved accepted medical thinking that Black Americans had a genetic predisposition for these diseases, and the gene pool of the Black Hebrew community in Israel disproved this medical assumption. Life spans are increasing within the community and the Prince believes that they can continue this progression. Prince Immanuel believes in a “lifestyle of righteousness”, of perfecting yourself and your community while doing no harm to the environment. He sincerely believes that his community can be a beacon of light for the Black communities of America.
In sharp contrast to the language frequently used and heard from American Black Hebrew Israelites that the Jews are imposters and that they, the American Black Hebrew Israelites are the authentic Jews; Israel’s Black Hebrew community, promote an entirely opposing narrative that embraces the State of Israel and the Jewish people with all of their heart and soul. Israel’s Black Hebrew community, value their communal home that they have been given in Israel, and the equal opportunity to share alongside the rest of the nation in civil obligations such as serving in the Israel Defense Forces, and contributing to Israeli society in all of its diversity. What makes this very special community even more special is that they have always had a choice of returning to the United States but have opted to remain in Israel, making Israel their permanent home alongside the Jewish nation of Israel.
Prominent Black Americans like Marc Lamont Hill who have openly yearned for Israel’s nonexistence, while the Black Lives Matter movement accused the Jewish State of “genocide” and “apartheid”, and lets not ignore Louis Farrakhan who labeled the Jews as “termites” have all over the years made every effort to portray Israel as a fortress of American white supremacism. To counter this toxic dialogue and the poisonous expressions used by Black American activists and progressives, all one has to do is spend an afternoon at the “Village of Peace” in Israel’s southern city of Dimona, and meet with members of Israel’s Black Hebrew community. They will convey to you in their own words that only in Israel they have felt safe and wanted. The Black Hebrew Community in Dimona can showcase to the world how within Israel, “we are all brothers” does not remain an empty slogan but rather a true depiction of being black and living in the State of Israel.