A phenomenon in a land full of phenomena is the story of the Hebrew Israelite Community in Dimona, Israel. Labeled over the years as “the Black Hebrews,” community members began arriving in Israel in 1969. Led by Ben Ammi Ben-Israel, they came from the United States via Liberia stating they are descendants of the tribe of Judah. In the nearly 40 years since, the community has moved from being unknown, to become kibbutz Shomrei Hashalom (Guardians of Peace), one of the largest urban kibbutzim in Israel. They presently number about 2000 in Dimona, with additional families in Arad, Mitzpe Ramon and the Tiberias area.
As with other communal settlements, the Hebrew Israelites maintain an ordered structure, with Ben Ammi sitting at the head of a council of 12 princes, who oversee the spiritual development of the kibbutz. Another 12 “ministers,” or the community management council, officiate the daily affairs in economics, education, sports and recreation, information and more. The community priesthood officiates weddings, Sabbath services and circumcisions for male children on the 8th day (according to Hebraic law). The Hebrews derive their income from their ever-popular music groups, as well as a soy foods product factory, specializing in the production of tofu, soy milk and ice cream. They also produce a varied line of cultural clothing from natural fibers which they market primarily abroad.
The community has become most noted for its healthy holistic lifestyle. All members are vegans, eating no meat, dairy products nor foods with chemical additives. Adult members exercise three times a week and are advised to have at least one full-body massage each month for its health benefits. They do not smoke or drink alcohol, except for naturally fermented wines they produce themselves. The health practices and organic agriculture program of the community have drawn visitors from around the world, especially government officials from Africa.
Today, community spokespersons are effective contributors to the national public relations effort, speaking to audiences on behalf of the State of Israel. The road to this position was not a simple one. Shortly after their arrival, the Chief Rabbinate decided not to recognize community members as Jews according to the Law of Return as they desired. For years the question of their status was a lingering issue. Legal status came about in May 1990 with first B/1 visas, followed by temporary residency a year later. That status was extended until August 2003 when the Ministry of Interior granted them permanent residency.
Since then, their activity and visibility have grown. Presently, more than 100 of their youth are serving in the Israeli Defense Forces in regular units; they operate a vegan eatery in Tel Aviv; their musicians perform across Israel and around the world, touring the US, Europe and Africa either solely with their own members or as a parts of other Israeli groups. They have created their own music genre which they call Songs of Deliverance producing CDs.
In sports they have represented the nation at home and in Europe in track and field and national softball events, including the Maccabiah games. Their students have represented Israel in international academic competitions. Twice they have represented Israel in Eurovision, the international music competition.
In February 2005 in conjunction with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights organization established by civil rights icon, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Hebrews opened the Dr. Martin Luther King/SCLC – Ben Ammi Institute for a New Humanity, a conflict resolution center in Dimona to teach holistic non-violence and reconciliation to families, communities, faiths and nations. Their story is a testimony of the great growth and maturity of the State of Israel and its people.