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Israel rejects black Hebrews as Jews
Posted By: News
Date: 20, November 02, at 2:48 p.m.
Scripps Howard News Service
DIMONA, Israel - In Chicago, kindergarten teacher Samaheyah Bat-Yisrael says her life was "desolation." But in this hardscrabble Negev desert town, she says she has found her "salvation."
Resplendent in a blue African-style headdress, a flowing outfit to match and gold earrings, the beaming 44-year-old Samaheyah - whose Hebrew name means "She who will make God happy" - is adamant about never returning to the crime- and drug-ridden South Side where she grew up. "We were slaves there. Here I know I'm safe."
Feeling safe may seem like an odd concept in conflict-driven Israel. It may seem especially odd in Dimona - a town of about 30,000 people created in 1955 to accommodate new immigrants - which is now home to Israel's only nuclear reactor. But for the 2,000-strong vegetarian and polygamous black Hebrew community, as they are widely known here, living in Israel is the fulfillment of a scriptural promise to create what they call the "Kingdom of Yah," or God on earth.
Calling themselves the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem, their origins are rooted in their charismatic leader, Ben Ammi Ben Israel. Ben Ammi, who was a foundry worker named Ben Carter in Chicago, had a vision in 1966 that his African ancestors were descended from one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel.
Since 30 disciples followed him to Israel in 1969, the community has established many celebrated professional gospel choirs and R&B singing troupes, sent their Hebrew-speaking offspring to Israeli universities and even represented the country in the annual European-wide Eurovision Song Contest.
But last Jan. 17, their connection to Israel took a tragic turn when the first black Hebrew born on Israeli soil was killed by a Palestinian gunman. Singer Aharon Ben-Yisrael Alis, 32, was gunned down as he performed at a bar mitzvah in the northern city of Hadera.
Nonetheless, after 33 years of living and now dying alongside Israelis, the black Hebrews are still fighting to achieve a crucial long-standing goal - full Israeli citizenship, giving them such rights as voting and serving in the army.
"Our identity is here in Israel. We are Hebrew Israelites, not Americans, and I think the Israeli government hasn't known what to do with us," said 44-year-old Yaffa Bat-Gavriel, who was known as Freda Waller when she arrived here in 1976. ". . . This is our home. We don't have any other."
Israeli authorities, however, disagree.
On several occasions, they have tried to expel the group, which has fought back by enlisting the help of prominent African American politicians and going on hunger strikes.
Israeli authorities reject the claims that the black Hebrews are authentic Jews, and have insisted in vain that they convert to Judaism so they can be recognized as full citizens. The native-born members are as stateless as their immigrant parents and the grandchildren of the original founders might not even be eligible for U.S. citizenship.
The black Hebrews share many aspects of Judaism, including observing the Sabbath and rites of circumcision, instructing their children in Hebrew, celebrating Jewish holidays and studying the Torah, the book of Jewish laws.
But most Israelis find some of their other practices to be odd and contend they are a cult subservient to the whims of the 63-year-old Ben Ammi.
"Just because you live by certain rules, it does not mean you are a cult," Bat-Gavriel said.
Comment by Ayinde
White Jews migrate to all parts of the world and want equal rights but some people cannot have equal rights in Israel. Most White Israelis are recent converts to 'Judaism' so the argument in the article is to disguise racism. This is institutional racism. Israel is the only country on earth that gets widespread legitimacy while practicing apartheid. Africans and Arabs who feel ties to Israel/Judaism are just as misinformed as most White Jew fundamentalists. There is much more history with a richer legacy to build on than trying to fit into a 'culture' that presently oppresses people. But that is another story.
Read: Israel and White Supremacy
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