Monday, November 21, 2011

Black Jewish People Around The World

Edited by Azizi Powell
Update: 5/4/2015

Jewish Community in Gondar, Ethiopia

Uploaded by josephfinkelstein on Oct 25, 2009

Picture and videos of the struggles and hardships of the vibrant Jewish community in Gondar.

This post provides information about three populations of Black Jews. The information presented is excerpted from hyperlinked articles. A YouTube video of each featured population is provided at the end of the post.

My thanks to the writers/editors of those articles and my thanks also to the uploaders of those videos.

This post is presented for its historical, educational, and sociological value.

However, this post isn't meant to be a comprehensive listing of or information about Black Jews. I'm using the term "Black Jews" as a referent for all of these populations. However, that referent may not be used and might be disliked by those populations. I mean no disrepect by my use of that referent.

BETA ISREAL (Ethiopia/Israel)
"Beta Israel also known as Ethiopian Jews are the names of Jewish communities which lived in the area of Aksumite and Ethiopian Empires (Habesh or Abyssinia), nowadays divided between Amhara and Tigray Regions...

Nearly all of the Ethiopian Beta Israel community, more than 120,000 people, reside in Israel under its Law of Return, which gives Jews and those with Jewish parents or grandparents, and all of their spouses, the right to settle in Israel and obtain citizenship. The Israeli government has mounted rescue operations, most notably during Operation Moses (1984), Operation Sheba (1985) and Operation Solomon (1991) for their migration. Some immigration has continued up through present day. Today 81,000 Ethiopian Israelis were born in Ethiopia, while 38,500 or 32% of the community are native born Israelis.

The related Falasha Mura are the descendants of Beta Israel who converted to Christianity. Some are returning to the practices of Judaism, living in Falash Mura communities and observing halakha. Beta Israel spiritual leaders, including Liqa Kahnet Raphael Hadane have argued for the acceptance of the Falasha Mura as Jews. This claim has been a matter of controversy within Israeli society."

LEMBA (South Africa (especially Limpopo Province), Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique)
"The Lemba or 'wa-Remba' are a southern African ethnic group to be found in Zimbabwe and South Africa with some little known branches in Mozambique and Malawi. According to Parfitt they are thought to number 70,000. Many of them claim a common descent to the Jewish people.

Although they are speakers of Bantu languages related to those spoken by their geographic neighbours, they have specific religious practices and beliefs similar to those in Judaism, which some...suggest were transmitted orally. Today, many Lemba are Christians (including Messianic Jews) or Muslim, and maintain several Jewish practices. Recent genetic analyses have established a partially Semitic (Middle-Eastern) origin for a significant portion of the Lemba population.

The name "Lemba" may originate in chilemba, a Swahili word for turbans worn by East Africans or lembi a Bantu word meaning "non-African" or "respected foreigner".

...According to some Lemba, they had male ancestors who were Jews who left Judea about 2,500 years ago and settled in a place called Senna, later migrating into East Africa. According to the findings of British researcher Tudor Parfitt, the location of Senna was more than likely in Yemen, specifically, in the village of Sanāw within the easternmost portion of the Wadi Hadhramaut. The city had a vibrant Jewish population since ancient times, but it dwindled to a few hundred people since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948...

After entering Africa, the tribe is have split off into two groups, with one staying in Ethiopia, and the other traveling farther south, along the east coast. The Lemba claim this second group settled in Tanzania and Kenya, and built what was referred to as "Sena II". Others were said to have settled in Malawi, where descendants reside today. Some settled in Mozambique, and eventually migrated to South Africa and Zimbabwe."...

AFRICAN AMERICAN JEWS (United States; Israel)
Most African American Jews weren't born into families who practiced Judaism, but instead were Christains who converted to that religion. One famous American Jew was entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. Here's an excerpt from his Wikipedia page,_Jr.
"Car accident and conversion to Judaism
Davis nearly died in an automobile accident on November 19, 1954 in San Bernardino, California, as he was making a return trip from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. The accident occurred at a fork in U.S. Highway 66 at Cajon Boulevard and Kendall Drive. Davis lost his left eye as a result; he wore an eye patch for at least six months following the accident. He appeared on What's My Line wearing the patch. Later, he was fitted for a glass eye, which he wore for the rest of his life.

While in the hospital, Davis' friend, performer Eddie Cantor, told him about the similarities between the Jewish and black cultures. Prompted by this conversation, Davis — who was born to a Catholic mother and Protestant father — began studying the history of Jews. He converted to Judaism several years later.One passage from his readings (from the book A History of The Jews by Abram L. Sachar), describing the endurance of the Jewish people, intrigued him in particular: "The Jews would not die. Three millennia of prophetic teaching had given them an unwavering spirit of resignation and had created in them a will to live which no disaster could crush". In many ways, the accident marked a turning point in Davis' career, taking him from a well-known entertainer to a national celebrity and icon."
Most African American Jews are members of Black Hebrew Israelite congregations. Here's information about Black Hebrew Israelites:
"Black Hebrew Israelites (also Black Hebrews, African Hebrew Israelites, and Hebrew Israelites) are groups of people mostly of Black African ancestry situated mainly in the United States who believe they are descendants of the ancient Israelites. Black Hebrews adhere in varying degrees to the religious beliefs and practices of mainstream Judaism. They are generally not accepted as Jews by the greater Jewish community, and many Black Hebrews consider themselves — and not mainstream Jews — to be the only authentic descendants of the ancient Israelites. Many choose to self-identify as Hebrew Israelites or Black Hebrews rather than as Jews.

Dozens of Black Hebrew groups were founded during the late 19th and the early 20th centuries.In the mid-1980s, the number of Black Hebrews in the United States was between 25,000 and 40,000. In the 1990s, the Alliance of Black Jews estimated that there were 200,000 African-American Jews, including Black Hebrews and those recognized as Jews by mainstream Jewish organizations...

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, dozens of Black Hebrew organizations were established. In Harlem alone, at least eight such groups were founded between 1919 and 1931. The Church of the Living God, the Pillar Ground of Truth for All Nations is the oldest known Black Hebrew group and the Church of God and Saints of Christ is one of the largest Black Hebrew organizations. The Commandment Keepers are noted for their adherence to traditional Judaism and the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem are widely known for having moved from the United States to Israel."

Other Featured videos:
The Jews are Black pt 2 The Lemba migration from Jerusalem 70 AD

Uploaded by GADAYAWAN on Aug 15, 2009

Some of the tribe of Judah fled into Africa and some into South Africa in 70.AD

WTTW Beth Shalom B'nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation

loaded by BethShalomBZ on May 12, 2007

WTTW Chicago Tonight profile of our synagogue located on the south side of Chicago.Please visit us at for more Information. Thank You.


This synagogue has been in existance since 1918. According to a comment in this video's viewer comment thread, most of the congregation converted to Judaism.
In 1997, the Rabbi of this congregation, who converted from African Methodist Episcopal demonination of Christainity, was the first African American to be elected to the Chicago Board of Rabbis. This video also mentions that Rabbi's visit to Black Jewish people in Nigeria.

Also, click Black Hebrews - Israel
Embedding disabled by request

Here's a link to a related post: Report: Being Black in Israel January 6, 2012

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