In Palm Beach, a Whitney Houston Shabbat (Updated)


If you plan on being in Palm Beach tomorrow, consider dropping in on the Whitney Houston Shabbat service being held at the New Synagogue. Held in conjunction with the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, the centerpiece will be a discussion between the foundation’s president, Rabbi Marc Schneier, and Prince Asiel, the "international ambssador" of the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem. Prince Asiel was apparently the host of Houston’s 2003 visit to Israel, which a number of Jewish media outlets have referenced following news of the singer’s untimely death on Saturday.

Oh, and if you’re on the fence about going, there will be a Kiddush to follow.

UPDATE: So it turns out Prince Asiel is a pretty colorful guy with a checkered legal history. From Benyamin Cohen’s riveting account in American Jewish Life magazine:

Like many supposed cults, I had heard bad things about them. I read on the Internet of wild claims, of murders of ex-members who had fled the group, of FBI warrants, and charges of wire fraud and cashing forged checks to the tune of millions of dollars. In 1985, the U.S. government arrested 27 members of the group — including the prince I was driving to meet today — for running a complex credit card and passport fraud ring. The convictions were ultimately overturned, and when prosecutors sought a retrial, the prince pleaded to a lesser charge.

It’s no wonder they didn’t want to be interviewed. They were fugitives.

So it was quite a surprise when my phone rang not too long ago. It was a woman, the secretary of the highest-ranking member of the sect in America, Prince Asiel, the second-in-command to the group’s leader in Israel, Ben Ammi. “The prince will speak to you now,” she said in a very business-like manner. There was a click and a short beat, barely enough time for me to gather myself and finish chewing the bologna sandwich I was having for lunch.

Moments later, a bombastic voice. “Mr. Cohen, so nice to speak with you.” It was the prince. He seemed nice and genuine and told me he’d be coming to town in a week’s time to visit the Atlanta community during Thanksgiving. He said I could come and spend the afternoon with him at the group’s headquarters. I had planned on a day of watching the Macy’s parade and family time but, hey, the prince was coming. You don’t want to mess with royalty.

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