Black Jews to Emigrate to Israel; Will Undergo Ritual Conversion if Required

A black rabbi, who recently visited Israel with several members of his congregation, has announced the intentions of his group to emigrate there in the near future. Rabbi Abel Respes, spiritual leader of Temple Adat Beyt Mosheh, located in Elwood, a small community near here, said that approximately 50 black Jews were planning to make the journey. The decision was prompted by the favorable impressions received by 17 congregants and the Rabbi, who toured the country extensively last month for ten days. According to the Rabbi, none of the racial prejudice which black Jews experience in American life was encountered in Israel. “I wasn’t conscious, in Israel, that I was colored,” he said. “I felt we were all ‘yehudim’–all Jews–and there was no distinction in this because of color. In many ways, we greatly resembled the Oriental segment there, who comprise at least one-fourth of the population.”

The 50-year-old Rabbi said he has met Jews of his race from Morocco and Yemen who treated him as a “brother.” Rabbi Respes told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that his congregants were particularly interested that their children grow up as Jews in Israel. He moved his synagogue to this South Jersey town in 1962 from Philadelphia because he feared the children would be assimilated into the Negro community and lose their Jewish identity. Rabbi Respes stated his group is prepared to undergo ritual conversion should the Orthodox authorities in Israel so demand. He noted that the black Jews from Chicago, who recently emigrated to Israel and settled in Dimona, have encountered great hardships because of their refusal to fulfill requirements imposed by Orthodox Judaism. “Although we firmly believe we are true Jews,” declared Rabbi Respes, “we will readily consent to undergo ritual conversion, as long as this will guarantee our acceptance into the Jewish community.”

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