Dimona's black Hebrews

Despite the austere desert landscape surrounding it, lush gardens embellish the Black Hebrews’ “Peace Village” located in the dusty Negev city of Dimona.

black hebrews 521 (photo credit: LIRON SHIMONI)
black hebrews 521
(photo credit: LIRON SHIMONI)
The colorful attire of the residents complements the green of their gardens. A young man, sitting near one of the houses, wears a blue kippa, a bright blue silk shirt and yellow pants. Near him is a woman garbed in a red dress with a white scarf covering her head.
“We believe that synthetic garments don’t allow our bodies to breathe and are a cause of skin diseases. We therefore sew for ourselves garments of natural materials such as cotton, linen, silk and wool. Through the colors we express our appreciation of the beauty of the Land of Israel,” Yafa Bat-Israel, representative of the community responsible for visitors, tells The Jerusalem Report as she shows me around the village.
The Black Hebrews believe that their forefathers went into exile from the Kingdom of Israel in 721 BCE and wandered through Africa until they were sold as slaves in America. In 1960, a charismatic young Chicago factory worker had a divine vision telling him that it was time for the “Black Hebrews” to return to the Holy Land. After many trials and tribulations, the visionary, who became known as Ben-Ammi Ben- Israel, and his flock settled in Dimona. After two decades of struggles with the Israeli bureaucracy the Black Hebrews were recognized as residents by the Interior Ministry. The community now numbers over 2,000 members and they are located in Arad, Mitzpe Ramon and Tiberias, as well as Dimona.
As Bat-Israel leads me around the clothing workshop, bakery and synagogue, I notice the well-tended pathways and gardens alongside the simple habitations.
I see some kids playing basketball while others work in the gardens, keeping their environment spic and span.
The Black Hebrews maintain a well-organized community life and each member has a defined role according to his ability. Many of them work in the village making jewelry and clothing, or teach in the community school; some are involved in village maintenance; others have day jobs in Beersheba and Tel Aviv. All members pay a percentage of their income to a community fund, which allocates money to the needy, pays municipal rates and health service fees. Considerable income is derived from donations from the US Black Hebrew community.
I am invited to eat in the community dining room and note their healthy eating habits. Their diet consists of vegetables, fruit and grains as well as products derived from soy beans (the community maintains a factory, which produces soy bean derivatives).
The diet is a reflection of their faith. “God offered Adam and Eve all the trees and bushes in the Garden of Eden, apart from the Tree of Knowledge. He did not say that it is permitted to eat animals,” notes Bat-Israel. “We believe that proper nutrition leads to positive and productive thoughts, which bring positive actions.”
Initially, the children of the community went to schools in Dimona. In 1993, after the community received funding to set up their own school, they established the Fraternity School, which now houses 17 classes, from nursery school to 12th grade. Since the Black Hebrews consider themselves Jews, the children learn about the Jewish holy days as well as about their own unique festivals. The school is recognized by the Ministry of Education.