By Avida Landau
DIMONA, Israel, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Four decades after they heard what they call an angel’s order to leave the United States and move to Israel, a vegan community popularly known as "the Black Hebrews" is about to get its own piece of the Holy Land.
Identifying themselves as African Hebrew Israelites, about 300 African-Americans arrived in 1969 in the sleepy desert town of Dimona, claiming to be descendants of the ancient Israelites and a right to settle in the Jewish state.
Despite observing Jewish holidays and practices, they were never recognised as Jews by Israeli authorities, but were allowed to remain. Their legal status has been resolved, and the government granted them permanent Israeli residency.
But fire services warned their homes in the small government-owned compound — which they call the "Village of Peace" — may be a fire hazard. So Dimona Mayor Meir Cohen and the government decided to give the community of about 3,000 Hebrews their own tract of land in the town.
On their new property, they hope not only to construct more comfortable dwellings, but also to build tourist attractions such as a wellness resort, health treatment clinics and restaurants, all reflecting the community’s lifestyle.
"We are really excited. It gives us a chance to further expand on the things we have begun to do in this country and I think also to share those benefits on a more stable foundation with the wider community," said Prince Immanuel Ben-Yehuda, a white cloth-dressed spiritual leader of the community.
Members of the community, where English is the spoken language and the children wear colourful African-style robes and white headcovers, believe a completely vegan diet of locally grown fruits and vegetables, along with regular exercise and holistic health treatments, are keys to longevity and health.
A medical study conducted in Dimona by U.S. university researchers in 1998 found the community was largely free of illnesses typical to African-Americans such as hypertension, obesity and high cholesterol.
"We expect to have something of a resort area where visitors will come, experience the lifestyle of the community, and as a point of rest and relaxation — an island of tranquillity — here in Israel," Ben-Yehuda said.
The community members have also made an effort to integrate into Israeli society by following the Israeli education curriculum in their school, located just outside the compound.
In addition, about 100 community members now serve in the Israeli armed forces.
The community also produces and markets their traditional natural-fabric robes and produce their own brand of gospel-style music, which has been performed both locally and internationally.
"We have really outgrown the area where we live in today," Ben-Yehuda said.
(Reporting by Avida Landau; editing by Jeffrey Heller and Sara Ledwith)