At the end of the 1960s, during the identity conflicts in the United States to which the African-American population was prey, a group of believers prepared to leave “the land of slavery” to settle in Israel.
Black Hebrew Israelite of Jerusalem, left the United States and settled in Liberia for two years before heading to the Holy Land. Their leader, Ben Carter, a steelworker from Chicago, would become Ben Ammi (son of my people) Ben Israel (son of Israel).
Self-proclaimed descendants of the ancient Hebrews, after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (70 AD), the Hebrew slaves expelled from the holy city migrated to Africa. The links that will unite Africans and ancient Hebrews would be the spiritual result of the origins. Two thousand years later, in the 1940s, Marcus Garvey, the «Black Moses»,Pioneering militant of Pan-Africanism, promoter of the return of the descendants of black slaves to Africa, will influence Ben Ammi and his family to return to the ancestral land of the Back Hebrew Israelites.
In the United States, from the 60s and 70s, the black American population was the victim of lynchings, acts of violence and racism. This is the period of civil rights for the fight against discrimination. It was then that Ben Carter received in one of his dreams the visit of the Archangel Gabriel. He orders him to leave the land of slaves that is the USA. Thus, at the end of the year 67, with 200/300 faithful, they dispossessed themselves of their property and flew to Liberia. This is the first stage of their project before the holy land. A reconnection with their African roots and, in order to cleanse themselves spiritually of the oppression suffered.
For two years they lived in makeshift camps. In the jungle, plagued by malnutrition, poisonous animals (spiders, snakes, ants) they endure harsh living conditions. Some will die of dysentery, others will return to the United States.
In 1967, Israel was marked by the 6-day war. The country is booming. The living conditions of new migrants from Arab countries are disastrous.
In 1969, the few faithful who remained in Liberia prepared to leave for Israel with the intention of leading a highly spiritual life there in close relationship with the land of their ancestors. Ben Ammi and his group obtain tourist visas. Arrival in Dimona in the Negev. A piece of territory is allocated to them, which will become the “Village of Peace”. It’s really just a neighborhood no bigger than a football field. It is located east of the city. It is based on the kibbutzim model: sharing, working together, solidarity.
Since 1971, they have lived mainly on donations received by the faithful from all over the world (Ghana, South Africa, USA). Each member donates part of its income to the community fund which allows the operation of the infrastructures and to help the most deprived.
In the center of the village, the main square hosts the various celebrations. It also houses a covered area for Shabbat Fridays. A food and clothing market is set up.
The restaurant ‘’the Miznon’’, quite famous in the region, offers an exclusively vegan menu. The restaurants change every week. Each family has its specialties. This makes it possible to offer a variety of products and to create a monetary balance. The community also follows strict rules: its members eat vegan, do not wear synthetic clothing, do not consume tobacco or alcohol, favor herbal care and natural births, and practice regular physical exercises. These rules aim to maintain a healthy body, condition according to them of a healthy spirituality.
They grow fruits and vegetables on land acquired nearby.
The children follow a school curriculum in the schools adjoining the village. Core subjects are taught by Israeli teachers; history and spirituality classes by community teachers. There are two buildings at the entrance to the village, from primary to secondary school. As well as a sports complex. Universities are located in Beersheva and Tel Aviv for future students.
They observe the rituals and festivals of the Hebrew calendar, fasting and Shabbat and all other festivals. They reappropriate history: the exit from Egypt of the Hebrews becomes the exit from the USA, a country of slavery. They do not consider themselves as Jews, but as Judeans and prefer the notion of spirituality to that of religion. They claim to be descendants of the tribe of Judas, one of the twelve lost tribes of Israel. It is this refusal to convert to Judaism that partly explains their difficulty in obtaining Israeli nationality.
Since their establishment in the 1970s, they have regularly been the victims of arrests for irregular situations, although some have been established for years. So, as they call it, the ‘deportation’ of members of the community aimed at reducing the number of faithful continues to increase. The Jewish state tolerates less and less the arrival of new migrants. In order to ensure a family future, more and more young adults do their military service to obtain papers.
The members of the community are around 2,000 throughout Israel, 200 to 300 people in the village of peace. The community has a «Holy Council», made up of twelve «princes». Twelve ministers take care of organizing the daily life of the community while «crowned brothers and sisters» are in charge of ensuring balance and harmony within the group by supervising in particular the questions professional and educational. Finally, about twenty priests are in charge of the spiritual life of the community.
Dimona is a working-class town in the Negev. It had some success in the 80s during the great immigration of populations from the former Soviet bloc. A city without charm, with dilapidated buildings, a remnant of the urban utopias of the 1970s, a radiant city conducive to the settlement of desert areas to expand the congested habitat in the center of the country. It is best known for its nuclear power plant and these aerial exercises by the Israeli army. A city that has become monotonous, with a high unemployment rate. A forgotten territory located about thirty kilometers from Beersheba, larger and more dynamic.
In 2015, a chance encounter with Paul Kane, a music producer in Tel Aviv, introduced me to the musical repertoire of the Ben Ammi community, jazz, soul. The group “Soul messenger” was very active in the 70s. The members played at certain ceremonies to be accepted by the Israeli public. This is the very first time I hear of the Black Hebrew Israelite. Our common passion will take us in the footsteps of Ben Ammi and his family, to Dimona, to the village of peace, in the Negev desert, a deprived place in the Holy Land.
During my long stay in Israel, I will be part of a choir, Fanga Israeli African Music Choir orchestrated by Hillary, herself a member of the community. She will help me get in touch with different personalities of the “Village of Peace”. It was initially laborious, exchanges of fruitless messages. For several months our conversations will be sterile on the arrival that I have already organized for the month of December 2022. A few days before my departure, I obtain the few formalities for my stay. The village has never been photographed in its intimacy. Only an African American photographer, Wendel White, took a few photos outside the festivities open to all.
Driven by social and human issues, I produced the Rise to the kingdom series to make visible otherness, the singular, the margin, in a society driven by identity where hegemony tends to exclude all other forms of belief.
A society that projects its own anxieties rejects difference in an individualistic way.
Black Hebrew Israelite of Jerusalem spiritual, benevolent community is connected to its environment, a world preserved from excessive consumerism. She is aware of the future of mankind and future climate issues.
Deconstruct the a priori to show in a realistic way a world which tries to preserve itself from an uncertain global future and by acquaintance in a daily struggle for equality. This reminds me of the work of ethnologist Édith Bruder, and of Rokhaya Diallo in her latest documentary: Destins crossed. Solidarity between Jews and Blacks in the United States.
In addition to the identity aspect, it is the way of life and human relationships that I develop in my photographic vision through portraiture and in situ photos within the community. In the desert light, silent and sacred.
Photography as a tool for connecting the worlds, a bridge that would link man to man, from blacks to Jews, from the chosen land to free Africa. From the ordinary to the extraordinary, a human dimension where syncretic time is composed in uniqueness.
It is a story of rejection that I myself experienced in my personal history. I also worked on a photo series, where I documented the lives of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. A geography of places in a series entitled, Je Tu Nous.
"The unknown has always been a source of wealth for those who don't look like me.
The foreigner is the reflection of what I don't yet know about myself"
In the dense Negev desert, where life seems interrupted.
Radiant sun. Flying dust.
Vestiges of dwellings from another time.
The lost city, surrounded by dunes and sacred silence, reveals its dull crackling colors.
At the door of a house in a peaceful village. Positive messages are affixed to the doors of houses, like mantras, to bring luck and positivity to visitors. Translation from Hebrew, yellow sticker / A. In spring, it is Rosh Hashanah. Happy New Year to all the disciples of Yahweh. In Judaism, the name of God is Yahve, here a reappropriation by the community becoming Yahweh.
Ahmahlyah is a very active member of the community, she arrived in 1984 after living in the USA. Born in Chicago, after a university career in communications and media. She chose to come and live in Dimona to reconnect with her African and Hebrew origins. Very attached to the values of fauna and flora and feeling like being part of this equation.
Shahyahrah in her sweet home. She lives on the hillside of the village. She is one of the oldest in the community (92 years old). She is a writer, she has written three books on the community's education system, one of which is titled: Journey to the Beginning: The Foundations of the Divine Dedication System - The Education System for a Better World. She was born in New York. She arrived in 1978 in the community. On one of the walls of her house, a portrait of her as a child, a spiritual diploma is written facing this photo, translated here: A carrier of the Wisdom of Yah ש- Shin For in my thoughts I will show forth the wisdom of Yah, and will stand tall in the sight of mine enemy. And with the word of fire I shall burn up all evil. י-Yud And in my heart I shall be open to all those in need of understanding and direction. I shall be like the eyes of Yah and see the good in all man. י-Yud I shall express musch freely and open-heartedly. And there shall be nothing to bind me, neither prevent me from showing the good of Yah. ר-Resh And all that I do on behalf of Yah shall be whole- hearted. And I will skillfully and wisely take from what seems to be nothing, and make it into a glorification of Yah ה-Hay And I will always maintain a fertile spirit so that no matter what life may bring about. I will always find my path back to Vah.
Ahkote Yitsara B. Nasik Rahm At the golden hour, in the center of the village, a movement was created when Ahkote Yitsara passed by. I wanted to photograph her in this way, she is a very reserved, silent person, I did not want to impose this exercise on her, so I waited until I could capture her presence. She takes care of the oldest member of the community and the elderly.
Ahturah vida At the entrance to the village, there are the houses of the most vulnerable people, near the car park. This place is assigned to them to facilitate travel outside the village and to be able to maintain a direct link with other members during ceremonies and on market days, on Friday before Shabbat.
The village is largely covered in vegetation. Trees sit enthroned like monuments protecting the dwellings from the rays of the sun and the heat of the desert. Plants are thus cultivated, and organic gardens are maintained on small plots.
Ahber was Ben Ammi's personal trainer. The values he teaches are: Holy spirit / Divine Live-it / Effective exercise / Proper Rest and relaxation / Efficient Elimination I took his portrait in his gym where everyone can come and practice physical activity. He maintains the premises and offers the possibility of coaching people who wish to do so. He was proud of his weight machine because it dates from the 70s and customized it with recycled objects.