The Black Hebrews, also known as the Black Israelites, are a group whose members claim to be the true Jews, directly descended from the lost Ten Tribes of Israel condemned to wander in Africa.

Their numbers are estimated to be about 3,000, with 1,500 to 2,000 of those in Israel and most of the rest in the United States, according to Marc Pearl, a spokesman for the American Jewish Congress. Pearl said, though, that "really nobody knows for sure" how many members the group has.

Ben Ami Carter, 45, founded the movement in Chicago in the 1960s, and is regarded by his followers as a messiah and savior, according to an English summary of a 1981 report on the group issued by then-member of the Israeli Parliament David Glass. The summary was compiled by the American Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee.

Carter started the movement supposedly after he became convinced that the Hebrew patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were black.

Pearl described Carter as "a very, very strong leader -- tremendous discipline."

Carter, a former foundry worker, began bringing followers to Israel in 1969. Members of the movement have settled mostly in Dimona, a remote town in the Negev Desert.

The Black Hebrews at best "regard the Zionists as 'trustees' who should now return the 'pledge' to its rightful owners. Their goal is to redeem all the Blacks throughout the world from their distress and bring them to Israel," according to the Glass report.

Black Hebrews in the United States are "from primarily urban areas," according to Pearl, who said that he is aware of the existence of members of the group in the District, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The Washington Post reported in January 1981 that about 75 members of the group lived here.

Members of the group, the formal name of which is the Original Hebrew Israelite Nation of Jerusalem, observe the Sabbath on Friday night and Saturday, chant prayers in Hebrew, and circumcise their sons. However, they permit polygamy and follow some practices not related to traditional Judaism.