National Library of Israel releases rare photos of Black Hebrew community

The photo collection shows the community when it was first established in Dimona, 50 years ago.

The Black Hebrew Exodus 50 Years On (photo credit: IPPA STAFF / THE DAN HADANI COLLECTION / THE PRITZKER FAMILY NATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION AT THE)
The Black Hebrew Exodus 50 Years On
(photo credit: IPPA STAFF / THE DAN HADANI COLLECTION / THE PRITZKER FAMILY NATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION AT THE)
As we mark 50 years since the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem, referred to as the Black Hebrews, first came to Israel, the National Library has released some rare photos taken just a few weeks after they arrived in Israel from Liberia.
The images are part of the Dan Hadani Archive, from the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection.
In a statement, the National Library tells the story of the Black Hebrews and of their charismatic leader, Ben Ammi Ben-Israel.
In the 1960s, Ben-Israel, who was living in Chicago at the time, said he had a vision and realized he was "the Messiah." 
In the 1970s, Ben-Israel and his followers decided to move from the United States, with some moving to Liberia, before finally settling in the "Promised Land", in the Negev Desert, and to establish their community in Dimona. 
IPPA STAFF / THE DAN HADANI COLLECTION / THE PRITZKER FAMILY NATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTIONIPPA STAFF / THE DAN HADANI COLLECTION / THE PRITZKER FAMILY NATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION
The group are "self-proclaimed descendants of the lost tribes of Israel who appeared to practice some form of Judaism, yet also had customs and a belief system all their own," writes The National Library. 
The photos were taken a few weeks after the community was established in Dimona.
However, when they first arrived, the Black Hebrews were not recognized as Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate and were not granted citizenship under the Israel's Law of Return. 
At first, the Israeli government granted the community tourist visas, but provided them with education, public housing, employment assistance and full medical coverage. 

IPPA STAFF / THE DAN HADANI COLLECTION / THE PRITZKER FAMILY NATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION IPPA STAFF / THE DAN HADANI COLLECTION / THE PRITZKER FAMILY NATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION
 
"When Meir Kahane moved to Israel in 1971, his first public appearance was in Dimona, where he accused the group of insulting the honor of the Jewish people," explains The National Library. 
Following the statement, some members of the Black Hebrews community were deported from Israel. 
An Egyptian official even offered them to settle in Egypt but Ben-Israel refused any "exodus", as he was confident that the group would overcome all the challenges they faced in Israel. 
In 1990, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri established guidelines allowing the vast majority of the Black Hebrews to stay in Israel permanently. 
Ben-Israel passed away in 2014, leaving behind four wives and 20 children.
IPPA STAFF / THE DAN HADANI COLLECTION / THE PRITZKER FAMILY NATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION IPPA STAFF / THE DAN HADANI COLLECTION / THE PRITZKER FAMILY NATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION
Today, most members of the community were born in Israel, still live in the “Village of Peace” urban kibbutz in Dimona where Ben-Israel's teachings are passed on, and others live in Arad and Mitzpe Ramon, as well as in Tiberias.
They are well-integrated into the Israeli society. Some serve in the IDF, others have entered international sporting events as well as represented Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest.