Black Jews, once known as Hebrew Israelites, are finding new acceptance among white Jewish institutions and leaders, reports Forward.com (July 27).
Although Hebrew Israelites have existed for 80 years and number up to 10,000 in the United States, until recently they have been rejected as inauthentic Jews by many in the mainstream Jewish community. Much of this distrust was over black Jews’ refusal to formally convert to Judaism, as they believed that the roots of black identity reached back to the Israelites of the Torah.
This has changed in recent years as an increasing number of black Jews have sought formal conversion (although they still maintain that conversion is not necessary). Writer Len Lyons adds that “Today, a cadre of teens and young adults have graduated from yeshivas and Jewish day schools, creating educational parity and a shared frame of reference with the wider Jewish community.” Last year, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, paid an “unprecedented” visit to a black synagogue.
Hebrew Israelite worship and practices are very different from those of mainstream Judaism—from the preaching based on call-and-response to the joyful music of the choir and the use of contemporary music accompanied by a band. Today, black Jews see themselves as reaching out to and educating other African groups who identify.