At dawn on Tuesday morning, a large group gathered on a mountain in the Negev desert to reenact the moments leading up to the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt.
Dressed in robes and flowing dresses, these pilgrims prayed, sang spirituals and discarded the leftovers from their seder meals into the flames of a massive bonfire, in a scene that evoked comparisons to the film “The Ten Commandments.”
“It’s one thing to see Charlton Heston in a movie,” said Ahbir Ben Israel, who stoked the fire with kerosene. “But we know that the Exodus is not just a story, it’s our history.”
The burning of excess food from the seder meal is just one of the ways that the African Hebrew Israelites, also known as the Black Hebrews, try to “take that ancient reality and make it contemporary,” Ben Israel said. They also remain in their houses from midnight until daybreak – when the Angel of Death is believed to have passed over the Israelites’ houses – and, according to God’s instructions, sleep in their clothing in order to be able to flee at any moment.
“It reflects how serious we are about getting closer and closer to the Creator,” he said.
For a time, the Hebrews even slaughtered a lamb and smeared its blood on their doorposts, just as the Israelites did so that their first-born sons would be spared from death. They discontinued the practice after arriving in Israel in 1969 and adopting a vegan diet.
As African Americans who identify with the tribe of Judah and whose ancestors, they believe, endured two periods of enslavement – one in Egypt and in the United States – the Passover tale has special resonance for the Hebrews.
“Historically, we’re always inspired by the story of the people being led out of Egypt, and the many trials and tribulations that were experienced on that journey,” said Prince Immanuel Ben Yehuda, a community spokesman. “We always felt like we were living it.”
He said he personally looks forward to the burning ceremony on the mountain because it allows him “to get rid of some of those characteristics, like doubt and fear, that you don’t want to carry into the next year.”
During this week of Passover, which they call the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Hebrews eat tortilla-like homemade matza and “fast” from Western music and movies. The Hebrews actually celebrate two Passovers; They commemorate their exodus from the United States, which they view as a modern-day Babylon, every May during a two-day festival known as New World Passover.
Their literal interpretation of the Torah extends beyond their observance of Passover to nearly every facet of their culture.
For example, they cite Genesis 1:29 as the reason for adopting a vegan diet: “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” They point to Methuselah, who according to the same book of the Bible lived to the ripe old age of 969, as inspiration in their quest to achieve immortality.
Earlier this month, they celebrated Rosh Hashanah based on their interpretation of a verse in Exodus that identifies the first day of the Hebrew month of Nisan (called Aviv in the Torah) as the “beginning of months,” not Tishrei, which is when most Jews mark the new year. (Like Karaite Jews, the Hebrews reject the Oral Law – the Mishna and the Talmud.)
Karaliah Eshet Prince Gavriel Ha’Gadol left Chicago in 1967 with the founding members of the community, which now numbers about 2,500. She spent two and a half years in the jungles of Liberia before moving to Israel and said her favorite part of celebrating Passover is being with her family in a land where she feels “free to worship Yah” – the preferred Hebrew term for God in the community – “with nobody dictating to you how and when to do so.”
For Elkannon Ben Shaleakh, who was also part of the vanguard group, the significance of Passover is the opportunity it provides “to start over again.”
The walls of the bungalow he shares with his wife and several other families in the community’s compound in Dimona, called the Village of Peace, are decorated with photos of civil rights leaders, including Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as several portraits of Ben Ammi Ben Israel, the spiritual leader of the community, whom he called “a Moses-type figure.”
At his seder on Monday evening, there was no gefilte fish, brisket or matza ball soup. Instead, Ben Shaleahk and his family feasted on eggplant parmesan (with soy cheese), stuffing with gravy, kale greens, salad and soy ice cream for dessert.
He explained that the bitter herb that is traditionally eaten during the Passover seder represents “the 400 years of slavery and poverty in America.” The sweet charoset, meanwhile, represents the Hebrews’ joy of living as a free people in their homeland.
While his journey has not been easy – one of his children died in Liberia after falling into a well, and another son, Aharon, was killed by a Palestinian gunman while performing at a Bat Mitzvah in Hadera in 2002 – he said he and the rest of the Hebrews have sustained themselves through their adherence to the Bible.
“We were caught up in the Book, and we were trying to live it out,” Ben Yehuda said. “We’re still doing that.”
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After battling it out for nearly three months on live television, talented contestants from The Voice Israel’s second season have been competing to be crowned this year’s top vocalist. This year’s winner? An Arab-Israeli.
19-year-old Lina Makhoul from Acre out-sang her competitors on Saturday evening’s season finale, and will be awarded a record deal, as well as a scholarship to attend music school.
While accepting her victory on Saturday’s live television broadcast, Makhoul admitted to being a victim of racism throughout the filming of season 2 of The Voice Israel.
In Makhoul’s final performance, she belted out a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, and proved her talent was deserving of a top place in this year’s competition.
This year’s final four was entirely female: Rudy Beinsin, Dana Tzelakh, Ofir Ben Shitrit, and Makhoul. The finale consisted of two rounds, the first being a series of solos performed by final four contestants, and the second round included each finalist singing a duet with their “mentor.” The “mentors”, Shlomi Brakha and Yuval Banay of popular Israeli rock band Machina, Mizrachi artist Sarit Hadad, rock-star Aviv Geffen, and Shlomi Shabbat, were to help advance their team members to the final round, however only Makhoul and Ofir Ben Shitrit survived the sudden death round.
Last year’s winner, Kathleen Reiter, a native-Canadian, has taken tremendous steps in her career since placing first in The Voice Israel, and has recently released her first single since her victory, Klum Lo Ozer Li (Nothing Helps Me).
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As hundreds and maybe even thousands of Israelis are hoping to receive an invitation to listen to Barack Obama’s speech at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, one lucky young woman has been invited to dine with the American president.
The organizers of Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel have included the new Miss Israel, Ethiopian-born Yityish (Titi) Aynaw, on the exclusive guest list to the gala dinner hosted by President Shimon Peres in honor of the US leader. “I have butterflies in my stomach,” the 22-year-old beauty queen admitted Wednesday.
The special team that arrived in the country to organize Obama’s visit began looking for the new Miss Israel several days ago. On Monday, one of the team’s representatives asked Ethiopian-born activists for their help in contacting Titi after reading about her story.
The connection was finally established on Tuesday, and Obama’s staff invited Aynaw to participate in the festive meal which will be held next Thursday at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.
Only 120 people have been invited to the event, including the prime minister, the IDF chief of staff and the Knesset speaker. As she dines with the American president, Israel’s first Ethiopian-born beauty queen may get the opportunity to share her unusual story with him.
Aynaw was born in a small town in Gondar. Her father was killed in a war when she was only two years old, and her mother raised her and her brother – who is one year older than her – alone.
When she was 12 years old, her mother died, and Titi and her brother were sent to live with their aunt. Later on, they immigrated to Israel, lived with their grandparents in Netanya and studied together at the Kfar Hasidim religious youth village.
“I’m very excited,” Titi said Wednesday. “I never dreamed of reaching such an honorable position. I have butterflies in my stomach.
“Ten years ago,” she added, “I was walking around barefoot in Ethiopia and I never imagined that one day I would be in the Land of Israel, meeting the Israeli president and the president of the United States. I could never have imagined such a powerful and exciting situation.”
Aynaw said Barack Obama was the subject of her final high school paper in English. “He is the first black president of the United States. For me, he is a role model who has pushed boundaries. He is a source of inspiration, proving that any person can reach the top, regardless of their religion, race or gender.”
SDM It’s been a while! I feel like I haven’t blogged here in the longest time and I was really beginning to miss you. I’ve been caught up with university and work and haven’t been able to sit down and get myself into a creative state of mind to recollect my adventures in Israel and write about them.
So I’ve decided to write this blog post right smack in the middle of midterms when I have
A) 45-minutes of video footage to edit for Tuesday FINAL CUT PRO I HATE YOU
B) A 700-word profile to write + conduct the interview before
C) An economics exam to study for
D) Chap 5 of my online Chemistry class to do
E) An article to write for a local newspaper about a facebook app called “Bang with friends”
F) Promote my Much Music VJ search application video
Seems like a good time.
A little History
Gamila was born and raised in the predominantly Druze hilltop town of Pqiin in northern Israel. Nobody including Gamila herself really knows how old she is, but judging solely based on her looks (which can be deceiving) I would say in her early to late 70’s. When Gamila was a little girl medication was scarcely available in her town. Isolated in the mountains, Gamila and her mother had no other choice but to use nature to heal and cure. As a result, Gamila grew to know practically every medicinal plant and herb in her area.
And then Pqiin was hit by modernization. Slowly, doctors and physicians began establishing themselves in the town and introducing the people of Pqiin to medication. Gamila, however, was skeptical. Being a firm believer in the power of nature and having seen it work countless times, she was not ready to give up on her practices or see them loose their relevance.
Still a young woman at the time, Gamila wanted to find a way to continue using the herbs and plants she had grown up with, but realized that she must find a marketable way of doing so. Eventually, it dawned on her-soap.
She set out to create a soap that would both clean and heal skin. It turned out being a journey that took her over 40 years of trial and error.
Fast-forward 40 years and Gamila came up with what she believed to be the ideal combination. She finally had exactly what she was looking for. So she began by testing it on local women, bringing them soap and waiting for their feedback, but news of her creation did not stay local for long.
Gamila’s product began receiving international recognition and very shortly after it’s popularity skyrocketed. Today, the soap is sold in over 40 countries, has been recognized as a cosmetic product and has been used by celebrities like Justin Timberlake and Madonna. The soap sells for around 100$ in some of the most fancy stores in the world, but at her original one up in Pqiin they’re 35 shekels. So naturally, I bought everything.
Everyone was conservatively buying one or two soaps, but here’s the deal- I’ve had acne for years, have tried countless products and medications none of which have really worked, so when I heard this helped acne her soaps suddenly looked like golden beacon’s of hope and I had to jump on the opportunity.
My experience with it
I always wished I had skin soft like a baby’s bottom. I see so many women who do and I envy them. Being biracial, I have mixed skin which, as some of you may know, is bipolar by nature (just like my personality KIDDING) sporadically fluctuating from too dry to too oily and sometimes spots being one or the other AT THE SAME TIME.
Gamila created her products and soaps to cater to all skin types. The sales women suggested the Lively Lemongrass soap for oily to combination skin like my own. I got myself a few and when I got back to Canada I ordered even more online- That’s how life changing this soap was.
After just a day
I kid you not young Jedi’s, I felt and saw the change in my skin. It had never felt so clean and looked so balanced. I didn’t have some dry areas and some oily ones –it stayed relatively stable throughout the day.
After three days
The huge pores around my nose began closing and my pimples drying out.
Two months later
I rarely get pimples and if I do it’s those one or two annoying buggers here and there. But, more importantly my blackheads are almost all gone and my skin has a radiant healthy glow to it. It feels and looks healthy, soft and hydrated. This product comes from the heavens and I have never felt so confident walking around town without makeup because I know my skin looks and feels amazing.
I want to encourage you to buy her products for another important reason. Besides their incredible healing qualities, Gamila and her company spread an important message of peace and equality that I find very few successful companies do.
First of all, here’s a quick anecdote; Gamila is worth A LOT right now and refuses to fly first class or sleep in any fancy suites when she travels. She notoriously downgraded her seat to economy once and used the monetary difference to buy school bags if I’m not mistaken for young disadvantaged children.
Also, her factory in Israel has truly been a game changer for the women of Pqiin. Before Savta Gamila’s company, Druze women did not work and did not get an education. They weren’t allowed to. When word got around that Gamila was working and selling her products she was ostracized by her own people. One day as she crossed paths with the town priest, he spat on her. Which amongst the Druze is possibly the highest form of disrespect conceivable. But, being the strong and independent-minded woman she is, Gamila carried through and eventually the mere fact that she challenged authority and succeeded, inspired other women to do the same
Her factory in Israel hires only women and makes sure there’s a mixture of Jewish, Muslim and Druze women working at all times. Giving hundreds of women an independence that was once inconceivable
Lastly, Savta Gamila realized through her travels that the physically disabled around the world often have a difficult time finding work and often end up being a burden to the state and to their families. So, when she opened a factory in Rotterdam Germany she made it a point to hire mostly physically disabled employees, giving them an opportunity to earn income and independence.
Gamila gave me hope that there are still people who sincerely care. She is an example for those of us who think the world could be bettered and who believe we do not have to settle with the way it currently is. One woman was able to change the status quo for an entire population, one woman is now the largest employer of Druze women in Israel and one woman’s factory helps hundreds of physically disabled Germans. If she can do it- so can we.
Gamila is a woman of the people who has an important message of peace, love and equality and that is what makes her products, in my opinion, truly priceless.
Happy woman’s day.
WATCH THE BRAND DOCUMENTARY HERE