The couple who shot up a kosher market in Jersey City last month and the suspect in the Hanukkah stabbings in upstate Monsey had connections to the Black Hebrew Israelites, a secretive sect with some members preaching hate against Jews. David Anderson, one of the shooters killed in the Dec. 10 firefight which resulted in six dead, published rabid anti-Semitic screeds on social media and was inspired by the group. Grafton Thomas, the accused stabber who injured five Hanukkah celebrants inside a rabbi’s home last week, had attended the sect’s house of worship in East Harlem. Months before the two attacks, in early February, Post reporter Princess Jones attended a service at the storefront temple. This is her story.
One of my relatives is a follower of the group, but I knew little about them except that their members view themselves as God’s “chosen people,” and believe that African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans are the real descendants of the 12 Tribes of Israel.
Last January, as I watched the viral video of the confrontation between a group of Catholic school students and Black Hebrew Israelite street preachers during the March for Life at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, I suddenly wanted to know more.
“How did you hear about the church?” asked the gatekeeper. “Are you familiar with the faith?”
I told him the truth — that a family member attended their sermons in my hometown in North Carolina. But he seemed not to hear me, and kept asking more questions before he opened the door and allowed me in. Before I could step across the threshold, the doorkeeper wanted to know more.
I wasn’t, but they must have noticed my look of shock, and explained to me that women on their periods are considered “unclean” and barred from religious services.He asked me if I was on my period.
Before they allowed me to pass, I was searched for drugs and weapons with a metal detector. They asked me to open my purse, and demanded that I hand over my cellphone. When I asked why, they responded, “for security reasons.”
Finally, I walked into the sanctuary, past doors emblazoned with the Star of David and two men in long purple vests with gold piping and puffy white shirts who identified themselves as “high priests.” On the wall behind them was a large plaque with their version of the 12 tribes of Israel: the “Negroes” belong to the tribe of Judah, the Cubans to Manasseh; West Indians to Benjamin; Native Americans to Gad; the Haitians to Levi, and so on.
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect as I made my way to a chair and someone handed me a Bible. Later, I was given a copy of the Apocrypha, a collection of religious teachings central to the beliefs of the Black Hebrew Israelites.
My relative who was part of the group had once described what was involved in their religious conversions. Basically, it amounted to this: Everything I had been taught in my Christian faith was a lie. Blacks were the “true” children of God. We were the lost Israelite tribes. We could go to heaven if we followed the Ten Commandments and stayed away from eating pork and shellfish, among other beliefs. White people were our oppressors, she said. According to my relative, as an African American woman, I was a “true Jew” even though the religion uses elements from both Christianity and Judaism.
“Jesus Christ loves Israel,” said one of the high priests. He spoke in a strong, proud voice, addressing the congregation, which consisted of me and five other people. “Our people are lost because they have been lied to by the European people.”
The priest went on to say in a determined and matter-of-fact voice that the mission of the church was to tell people these truths. Somehow, I expected him to be louder, to wave his arms around, maybe even to stomp his feet. But there was none of that. Instead, there was a measured and calm assurance that what he was preaching was simply the truth.
“There is no other church on the planet earth that will teach you the true word of God,” he continued. “Other churches are the Anti-Christ. You must be a part of the Israelite church to hear the truth.”….
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