Shavuot In Israel, Black Hebrews Style


In Israel, Shavuot, a one-day holiday, is a time of family meals topped off with cheesecake, picnics and excursions to the seashore, all-night study sessions in Orthodox circles and the recitation of the Hallel prayers in many synagogues.

And among the Black Hebrews of Dimona, it’s also a time of exuberant singing and dancing.

The group of émigrés from the United States — their formal name is African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem — settled in Israel in 1969, following their charismatic leader Ben Carter, a Chicago metallurgist who said he received a go-to-Israel vision from the angel Gabriel and later took on the name Ben Ammi Ben-Israel. He died last December.

He maintained that some black Americans are descended from the biblical tribe of Judah.

Settling in Dimona as tourists, in the Negev desert, the Black Hebrews, who adhere to a Torah-based lifestyle but have not converted to Judaism, have obtained permanent resident status in Israel, working mainly in crafts and tailoring. They also produce soy and vegan food products, and operate a chain of Soul Vegetarian vegan restaurants.

The Black Hebrews observe all biblical holidays, and have created their own New World Passover.

About 3,500 members of the group live in Israel today.

In Israel, Shavuot falls this year on Sunday, May 31. In the diaspora, it is a two-day holiday.