They don't smoke they are strict vegetarians. Most of them perfer a communal life.
Outside of work, they wear flowing dresses, tunics and head coverings of natural fabrics.At other times they wear the business uniforms of three-piece suits and skirts and sweaters.
They believe a man can have, with his wife's permission, more than one wife. They believe the black family is in disarray. They have a philosophy that is based on a strict interpretation of the Bible, and is a meshing of Pan-Africanism and contemporary introspection.
They believe they are the decendents of the originals Hebrews, that they are the only true Jews. They believe they were the people the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was talking about when he said "he would return his people back to the land, once the punishment was over."
They have adopted Hebrew names. They celebrate all the traditional holy days of Judaism, except Hanukah, and have added a day, Kingdom Passover, a commemoration of the time their founders left America to start the journey home to Israel.
They are the community of the Original Hebrew Israelites, a religious-cultural movement that started in Chicago in the 1960s. In pursuit of their goal, the resettlement of blacks in Israel, they have moved 2,000 people to three different cities in Israel.
Washington is one of four American extensions, with the group here growing to 75 people in four years. Most of the members live in the four cooperative homes, which are sparsely decorated, tidy houses in neighborhoods like Takoma Park and Shepherd Park. About 15 people live in each home, and follow a rigid set of laws on food preparation, cleanliness, and noise.
Their meetings are easy hybrids of Biblical interpretation, the call-and-shout patter that marks many blck evangelical movements. "Don't nobody look like us, you can't go out unless it's a crowd," one class leader shouted at a recent meeting. Seveal voices shouted back, "Yes, you can." The leader responded, "You have got tobe wise. You are putting out a spirit. . . We are a Kindom of Right in the middle of a Kingdom of Wrong."
"When my daughter came home that first time and said she had met a black Hebrew who plays the trumpet in a band in Israel, I gulped and said 'This too shall pass,'" says the small woman dressed in a whirl of bright orange gauze-cotton. The time she is describing in precise, lyrical whispers was five years ago. She was then Norma Fitch, a high school guidance counselor and community activist in Cleveland, Ohio. Now she is Ahnahteya Baht Israel, a member of the international staff of the community.
Ahnahteya's story is one of shock and dismay slowly converted into unquestioning belief.
In her room in the community's home in the Shepard Park section of Northwest Washington, Ahnahteya is listening to soft folk music. It is the voice of her daughter, Natutnoya, who now lays with the Black Hebrew's band in Israel, where her other daugther also lives.
"When my daughter first talked about it, I thought she was being impulsive, impulsive, emotional," Ahnahteya recalls. "I advised her to talk to ministers. I wouldn't really discuss it with her. Once when I was getting dressed for a Jack 'n' Jill luncheon, she brought the Bible to the table and said let's discuss this. I told her I related to the New Testament, not the Old." Ahnahteya went on to her luncheon, developed severe stomach pains, and was despondent when her 18-year-old daughter left for Israel.
Then in July of 1977, she made an unannounced visit to Dimona, in Israel.
Her first night there she attended a basketball game. "There was this black Hebrew team in a huddle and instead of shouting hip-hip-hurrah, they shouted hallelujah." In the next days, she admired what she saw. She says her stomach pains were cured by a diet of fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Her daughter, who had been an athlete and musician at home, had continued those interests. "But she was much more patient, considerate and affectionate."
After three weeks she went home, giving a favorable report to her husband, telling him it was worthwhile. She researched the group, she recalls, looking for negatives. "I decided to support them from my four-bedroom home. I wasn't ready to go sleep on the floor. But also, I couldn't get it out of my mind," she says. Her husband didn't share her response, didn't join in the new diet routine she had decided to follow.
One night, when he was asleep, she left, and wrote him a letter that went unanswered.
I don't regret the end of the relationship. It was a good 25 years. But the marriage was of no value. It was hollow. How could I purchase a steak for him when I knew it was killing him?" she asks.
She returned to Israel with her 10-year-old daughter, spent nearly two years and now is an international representative. She now totally accepts the group's philosophy. "In the nation a woman can be anything she wants, except a man," she explains. "The divine marriages are part of our culture. It goes back to the patiarchs. We about building a nation, one woman can have so many children." At the same time she speaks very proudly of her previous activites -- of the life she calls sheltered, the integration of her neighborhood, picketing the local board of education, serving as her church's announcement clerk.
But, she adds of her new life, "I am here serving as an image, living as an example of what the Kingdom is about," she says. "I understand this message we are bringing just hasn't been heard."
"We looked throughout the world, everyone in the world was identified by a language, a land and a culture. Except our people in America. They were called Negros, coons, anything other than people. We knew prophetically what was called the lost sheep of the hose of Israel. We knew prophetically and in all actuality that the only people lost in the world were the black people of America," says Asiel Ben Israel, the group's top official in America, who is known as the Ambassador.
From colonial times groups of blacks who followed a strict Judaism, and those who claimed a tie to the Biblical Lost Sheep of the House of Israel, have organized as black Jews and black Hebrews. Most of them were not encouraged to join the synagogues in the large Jewish community but developed separate places of worship. They have found a place in many of the black cultural nationalist movements -- from the Falashas, a centuries-old group of Ethiopian Jews who are considered true Jews by the hierarchy in Israel and who have congregations in the United States, through the modern movements of Marcus Garvey, a Jamaician who started a back-to-Africa group in New York in the 1920s and the Ras Tafari, the Jamaican-based movement that believes the late emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, is God.
The present group of Black Hebrew Israelities was formed in Chicago in 1963 and has gone further than the other nationalist movements by actually sending their members back to what they consider a homeland.
In 1967 a group of 300 people left Chicago, settled in Liberia, then 2 1/2 years later migrated to Israel. The initial group of 39 were give places to live and were granted temporary work and reisdency papers. They were largely left alone. But in recent years, as the numbers have grown, their philosophy has been criticized harshly within Israel.
The group is also regarded with some skepticism, as well as support, within the American Jewish and balck communities. But many Americans who have visited -- including former Rep. Charles Diggs, ministers, civil rights workers, and journalists -- describ a modest, peaceful, disciplined community.
Last May Rev. Willie Wilson, the minister of Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia, spend eight days in Israel. "I saw an immaculate, clean situation, good organization. And most importantly black love. They were sharing a struggle in this pionerring effort but they came together," says Wilson.
Their detractors, including some Israeli politicans and some neighbors in their three settlements, consider them immigrants who are illegal, unpatriotic, racist, unemployable and immoral. The group's leadership structure of Princes and Saints -- including calling their leader, Ben Carter, the Messiah, the Rabbi, the Prince of Peace and other names -- has led to some comparisons to a Jonestown settlement. A study released by the Knesset last year know as the Glass report concluded that they were not true Jews and did not qualify for citizenship under the Law of Return but did not suggest they be expelled.
The children of the black Hebrews are not issued birth certificates in Israel, are not allowed to attend the public schools and their parents do no have work permits. So they end up working for low wages or in the modest businesses the Hebrew Israelities have started. In recent months some American blacks visiting Israel have reported harassment at the airport, and some have even been put on the next plane back to the United States.
The black Hebrews' tenets are also criticized by blacks who see any affection or connection with Israel as bad politics. American blacks are also critical of the philosophies of "divine marriages," which is seen by some as polygamy, and the division of labor in the settlements in Israel and the houses here, which give the women traditional homemaking roles and the principle that the order of communication is "Creator, man, woman, children."
But the black Hebrews also have supporters within the black community, the focus of which is BASIC, Black Americans for Support of Israel, which is headed by Bayard Rustin. They toured the settlements in 1977 and the next year had a meeting with representatives of all the major American Jewish groups. In critical questions of the traditional black-Jewish alliance, such as affirmative action, the right of former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young to meet with the Palestinian Liberation Organization and former Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan's recent remarks that the American army was weak because of the presence of blacks, the Black Hebrews side with American blacks.
"After I came back from Israel, I was never really happy. My dispostion changed considerably. I never straightened my hair again. I stopped eating meat. Over a month Stopped eating dairy products. I stopped cursing. I went to clubs but I covered up my body. And when a guy hit on me, I explained what I was about and demanded respect," says the statuesque woman in her late 20s whose long braids cascade over her face. Up until a couple of months ago she was Constance Brandy Gough, an editor of Essence magazine. At Thanksgiving she adopted the name Odehyah, which means "I shall confess thanks, thank you God."
In September, five members of the black Hebrew community in Atlanta were indicted by a county grand jury on charges of theft. And federal investigators are looking into individual members of the Chicago group on suspicion of fraud and theft.
When a few members of the group are asked about these charges, they say they openly discuss the unfavorable press in their meetings, but add that the criticism is a burden they must carry. All positive black movements, they say, have been systematically harrassed by law enforcement groups.
"The first thing is that our faith in what we have done is perfect," says the Asiel Ben Israel. "Number two, they looked too late. Enough folk, responsible black and white people, have been to the community. That is not the assessment or observation they've come back with. Number three, our movement in America among the various sectros . . . [they are] aware of the mechanisms America can use against strong, black people."
"I had been studying the possibilities of a vegetarian community," says the 29-year-old, his smile perfect for the theater life he once wanted. "Then my wife found about a house that was all vegetarian. She went to one of the Saturday dinner sales, then invited one of the brothers over. At the end of the conversation, he said to me 'I just came to tell you, you are my brother and I love you.' No one had ever said that to me." Outside the community he is Darnell Haynes, a management counsultant and poet. Within the Hebrew-Israelties he is Ahmicam, one of the teachers and a communal house leader. His wife, a former singer with The Crystals and Evelyn Champagne King, now lives in Israel with 2,000 other followers of the movement.
In Washington, the members have the peace that is part of their philosophy and the restlessness that marks their waiting for their turn to go to Israel, and the wariness that groups outside the mainstream always have toward outsiders.
On Wednesday night, the class was reading Matthew, Genesis. The speaker, whose Hebrew name means fire-breather, was drinking water and leading the testifying. "I am an agitator. It's been a long time since black men could say what they wanted to say." There was a long, confident laugh from the class.
They turned to Revelations. Whereever the group was in the Bible, the word righteousness always caused a detour. The leader started talking about stereotypes of blacks, especially those connected with crime. "Do you know someone who owns a boat? Do any of you know someone who owns an airplane? Well, then who is bringing in all the dope?" His listeners applauded. He waved a newspaper clipping about sexual assaults on children. "This is your America," he said "God Bless America. I hate America." Everyone shouted back "Likewise." The one woman added, "With a perfect hate." CAPTION: Picture 1, A class at All Souls Unitarian Church; Picture 2, Ahnahteya Israel; Photos by Craig Herndon