Ben Ammi Ben- Israel, the Founder and leader of the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem died on Saturday aged 75. The causes of his death are yet to be determined.
The group, which has also been known as the Black Hebrews, moved to Israel from the US in the late 1960’s and 1970s and there are some 2,000 African Hebrew Israelites living in Israel, most in the southern towns of Dimona, Arad and Mitzpe Ramon, as well as Tiberias.
Ahmadiel Ben Yehudah, a spokesman for the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem, said that the community was deeply saddened at the loss of our Holy Father’s physical presence,” but said that they were”emboldened in knowing that his spirit truly lives in each and every one of us.”
“We are as focused and determined as ever to continue to fulfill, maintain and further his vision for all humanity and the Creation. His example and focused commitment to Yah and His people will be an eternal flame in our hearts and a guiding light on our path,” he said.
The movement of African Hebrew Israelites began in the late 19th century in the US, when some groups of African Americans began to identify with the ancient Israelites.
They claim descent from the 12 tribes of the ancient Israelites and state when the Jews of ancient Judea were exiled from their homeland by the Romans in 70CE some of them ended up in West Africa.
According to these groups, many of these people were captured into slavery by European slave traders and transported to the Americas.
Ben Ammi, was born Ben Carter in Chicago in 1939. In 1966, he said that he received a vision in which the angel Gabriel told him that the time had come for the descendants of these ancient Jews to return to the Land of Israel.
So in 1967, Ben Ammi led 350 people to the West African country of Liberia and from there, members of the community began to arrive in Israel in 1969 where they became the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem.
Members of the community believed Ben Ammi to be the messiah, referring to him as the “Messianic Leader of the Kingdom of God.”
When they began arriving in Israel, the African Hebrews were not recognized as Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate and were not granted citizenship under the law of return. They first gained legal status in 1990 when they were granted work visas, and then gained temporary resident status a year later.
In 2003, the Ministry of the Interior granted them permanent residence status.
Young men from the African Hewbrew community serve in the IDF, and they have represented Israel in international sporting events and academic competitions, as well as having represented Israel twice in the Eurovision song contest.