African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem

A spiritual community of African-American expatriates living in Israel, following a vision of returning to the biblical Promised Land.

The African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem, often referred to as Black Hebrews, represent a unique spiritual and cultural community. Originating from a group of African-American expatriates, they have established a significant presence in Israel, particularly in the town of Dimona. The community follows the teachings of Ben Ammi Ben Israel, who, in 1966, claimed to have received a vision directing him to lead the descendants of the ancient Israelites back to the Promised Land.

Origins and Migration

Ben Ammi Ben Israel, inspired by a vision in 1966, convinced approximately 400 African-Americans, primarily from Chicago, to leave the United States, which they referred to as the “Lands of the Great Captivity.” This exodus was part of a broader awakening to historical roots and cultural identity that African-Americans experienced in the 1960s. The group first moved to Liberia before ultimately settling in Israel in 1969. This journey was seen as a reenactment of the biblical Israelites’ exodus and a return not just to their ancestral homeland, which they consider to be northeastern Africa, but also to a way of life aligned with their understanding of God’s will.

Life in Israel

Upon arriving in Israel, the group faced legal challenges and initially lived in a state of limbo, lacking work visas and facing potential deportation. However, they were not deported, and over time, their situation improved. In the early 1990s, they were granted temporary resident status, and by 2003, many community members received permanent residency. The first African Hebrew Israelite received Israeli citizenship in 2009, with others following suit. The community also serves in the Israel Defense Forces, where accommodations are made for their cultural and dietary practices.

Cultural and Spiritual Beliefs

The African Hebrew Israelites see themselves as descendants of the tribe of Judah, emphasizing a spiritual identity rather than a religious one. They maintain a distinction between religion, which they view critically, and spirituality, which pervades all aspects of their life. The Holy Council, consisting of 12 men known as princes and chaired by Ben Ammi, constitutes the group’s spiritual leadership.

Their community in Dimona, known as the Village of Peace, is a hub of cultural and social activities, including a communal living system, a community-run school, and various enterprises like vegan restaurants and a vegan food factory.

Health and Lifestyle

One of the most notable aspects of the African Hebrew Israelites is their focus on health and wellness. The community has successfully minimized diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity through their lifestyle. Members adhere to a vegan diet, avoid tobacco, drugs, and most alcoholic beverages, and engage in regular exercise. This holistic approach to health is seen as integral to their spiritual practice.

Global Influence and Recognition

The community’s unique culture and beliefs have attracted attention globally. High-profile celebrities and political figures have visited their settlement, and the group has established connections with various international entities. Despite initial challenges, the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem have carved out a distinct identity and community in Israel, contributing to the country’s diverse cultural landscape.