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Thin Description

Thin Description

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Thin Description
    Book Description:

    The African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem are often dismissed as a fringe cult for their beliefs that African Americans are descendants of the ancient Israelites and that veganism leads to immortality. But John L. Jackson questions what "fringe" means in a world where cultural practices of every stripe circulate freely on the Internet. In this poignant and sophisticated examination of the limits of ethnography, the reader is invited into the visionary, sometimes vexing world of the AHIJ. Jackson challenges what Clifford Geertz called the "thick description" of anthropological research through a multidisciplinary investigation of how the AHIJ use media and technology to define their public image in the twenty-first century. Moving beyond the "modest witness" of nineteenth-century scientific discourse or the "thick descriptions" of twentieth-century anthropology, Jackson insists that Geertzian thickness is impossible, especially in a world where the anthropologist's subjects craft their own self-ethnographies and critically consume the ethnographer's offerings. Taking as its topic a group situated along the fault lines of several diasporas--African, American, Jewish--Thin Descriptionprovides an account of how race, religion, and ethnographic representation must be understood anew in the twenty-first century, lest we reenact old mistakes in the study of black humanity.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-72625-3
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. ONE Passover
    (pp. 1-10)

    Most memorable about that particular flight from New York to Tel Aviv? Three things: the balancing acts performed bytefillin-adorned believers in black suits and yarmulkes; the considerable number of African Americans, sleepy-eyed but excited, sprinkled throughout our packed coach cabin; and the thinnest veneer of polite distance softly barricading those two sets of travelers away from one another.

    Emergency exit rows on our plane to Israel in May of 2006 provided just enough space for several Orthodox Jewish men to stand in the aisles for morning prayers, bracing their hips and knees against plastic and metal seats in...

  4. TWO Introductions
    (pp. 11-20)

    Identities rely on archives.¹ Public recognition requires supporting documentation, which is part of the reason why saints in the Kingdom spend so much time gathering scholarly details to justify their pronouncements, so much time videotaping their everyday lives: New World Passovers, community sporting events, elders’ wedding anniversaries, and more, from the extraordinary to the mundane. It is about actively building an archive, collecting and assembling records that prove a particular version of the past. But there are always other people with conflicting histories to promote, alternative accounts buoyed by their own data.

    Scholarly and popular stories about “black Jews” or...

  5. THREE Artscience
    (pp. 21-30)

    I remember watching marlon Riggs tell the story of his own death. It was 1994, and I was in graduate school, scrutinizing his ghostly image in a classroom on the fourth floor of the Schermerhorn building, home to Columbia University’s Department of Anthropology.

    The dying, the death, was no less real for its televisuality, for the fact that I witnessed it by way of a rolled-out video console’s totemic stacking of a TV monitor on top of multiple VHS players, audio/video wires and AC power cords dangling carelessly off to the sides. With a degree of brutal introspection more gripping...

  6. FOUR Megiddo
    (pp. 31-38)

    The y2k bug was supposed to end the world, or at least our version of it. Technology would be humanity’s downfall, catapulting us back to the Stone Age, the entire thing almost laughable, were the stakes not so high, for its bottom-line simplicity: binary computation’s inability to accommodate a switch from 99 in the year 1999 to 00 in 2000 (a major concern given our ubiquitous and completely reasonable practice of abbreviating years just this way). Computers might render January 1st of the new millennium as 1900, the experts said, or as 19100. Or even just as a “fatal error”...

  7. FIVE Chicago
    (pp. 39-46)

    Ben carter was working as a metallurgist at a foundry in Chicago in 1964 when an elder in the community began to teach him about his true Israelite roots. According to a couple of accounts, the year was 1963, not 1964. And his name might have been Gerson Parker at the time, not Ben Carter. Some historians have even perpetuated the erroneous claim that he was a bus driver. The story of the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem, like any tale sustained through the necessary retellings that create collective memory, consists of many overlapping historical narratives and disputes of recapitulated...

  8. SIX Exiles
    (pp. 47-52)

    The african hebrew Israelites inhabit anewNew World, the desert city of Dimona (redefined as “the new Jerusalem”), and so does their eager ethnographer, even though ethnography (as anthropologists traditionally conceived of it) wasn’t necessarily meant to study anything new, wasn’t designed to probe the emergent realities of “modern” life. We knead and warp it to address them anyway—in part, with the hope that we might avoid the intellectual apocalypse known as irrelevance. And this rethinking of traditional assumptions about ethnographic research also recalibrates other taken-for-granted conventions within the field, longstanding logics and principles that justify our research...

  9. SEVEN Backstage
    (pp. 53-58)

    Everything is ethnography. That’s something I’m constantly proclaiming to students. “Everything is ethnography. Everything!” An exile’s anxious exhortation? It is, I admit, a seemingly silly thing to say, vapid in its catchall triteness—and evaporating into analytical uselessness, many would protest, as a consequence. But this “everything is ethnography” ethos comes in handy sometimes, even just as a kind of academic parlor trick, a pragmatic and “serious game” played so that you don’t work yourself up into a lather over relatively minor (or not so minor) frustrations.¹ In that way, “everything is ethnography” closely shadows the urban colloquialism for Zen-like...

  10. EIGHT Analogies
    (pp. 59-70)

    In 2008, Jewish studies scholar Tudor Parfitt published a provocative claim about the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark is that most sacred of Old Testament objects, built at Yahweh’s behest for the housing of His holy commandments, a quintessential locus for His material presence on Earth, and all the more valuable for having disappeared since the parting of the Red Sea and the seizure of Jericho, two well-known biblical stories that specifically noted its presence. The Bible last places that Ark in Solomon’s temple, which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, and there hasn’t been another commonly...

  11. NINE Asiel
    (pp. 71-78)

    It wasn’t just the sparkling allure of new African possibilities that energized emigrationist impulses within segments of Chicago’s black Israelite community during the 1960s. There was also a push factor, something more than the worrisome fact that many of America’s urban neighborhoods were going up in flames. If anything, urban rioting in America was simply a spectacular distraction, a “smokescreen,” as several saints describe it, which Yah provided so that His people could exit the country with little resistance, undetected. Like thieves in the night. And they left not because of the riots themselves. The real issue wasculture,African...

  12. TEN Hustling
    (pp. 79-88)

    Five years ago I started using the American Anthropological Association’s annual conference as my own private ethnographic overflow room, a time for reaching out to saints or former saints (or other Hebrew Israelites unaffiliated with the AHIJ) who live in places where I havenotdone any extended research. Over the past decade or so, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, DC, and North Carolina have each served as morebona fidefield-sites during different phases of this project, but there is hardly a region in the country without at least a spattering of Hebrew Israelites of one kind or another, even...

  13. ELEVEN Ignorance
    (pp. 89-94)

    As a series of video excerpts, “The Day of the Show of Strength” is almost completely viewable on YouTube. I hadn’t even thought to look for any information about that clash online until I had an initial discussion with my editor, Sharmila Sen, about this AHIJ project. After our conversation, she surfed the web for more information on the community, subsequently hipping me to the fact that they had quite a robust YouTube presence—as do other Hebrew Israelite groups, along with many detractors who spend their time posting challenges to the legitimacy of such groups. This YouTubification is an...

    (pp. 95-100)

    Thursdays mean swimming lessons at the local YMCA, classes for young people of any age and skill level. Daddy-duty at the Y is never easy, especially when my wife’s out of town. So, I am playing single-parent for a few hours on this particular Thursday, which always makes me more anxious and short-tempered than necessary, tension and fear about my own lack of fatherly skills, I suppose. Or maybe sublimated subconscious recollections of my own (biological and step) fathers’ imperfect—though seemingly sincere—parenting efforts. Whatever the reason, all this is just meant to provide a little context, in hopes...

  15. THIRTEEN UnAfrican
    (pp. 101-108)

    “Don’t be a sucker,” he shouted from our subway car’s flickeringly lit corner seat. His unexpected eruption sounded ferocious. Raw and piercing. Bitter and cold. At least to my ears. But maybe that’s just because the words had been aimed directly at me, not merely overheard from some kind of “second-order” anthropological distance scrupulously in it, but not of it.

    It was my first year in graduate school, and I was commuting from my mother’s East New York apartment in Brooklyn, about an hour or so from Columbia. I majored in filmmaking as an undergraduate, which meant that entering any...

  16. FOURTEEN Empress
    (pp. 109-112)

    2008 AND 2009: I found myself galloping around the island of Jamaica recording mini-DV footage for an ethnographic film about a group of Rastafarians who annually commemorate the murder, torture, and imprisonment of dozens of “bearded men,” mostly Rastafari elders, at the hands of Jamaica’s citizenry and police force in 1963 (just a year after that nation’s Independence from Great Britain), a sociopolitical convulsion euphemized as “the Coral Gardens incident”—and so named for the community in Montego Bay where the violence began.¹ My wife, Deborah, remember, is also an anthropologist, and she was researching the “incident” and its annual...

  17. FIFTEEN Camps
    (pp. 113-118)

    Several scholars have written compelling histories of black Jewish/Hebrew groups in America, including many that predate Ben Ammi and the AHIJ by more than half a century. These studies tend to be written with a single-mindedly schematic focus on the beliefs and practices that distinguish these groups, more or less detailed overviews of their stated orthodoxies. Many of those histories start in the late nineteenth century with the founding of the Church of the Living God, the Pillar Ground of Truth for All Nations in Tennessee by F.S. Cherry, a man who preached that white people were intrinsically evil and...

  18. SIXTEEN Liberia
    (pp. 119-124)

    Preparing to leave the United States in 1966, and even reflecting on that departure once saints first started landing in Liberia a year later, Ben Ammi and his fellow emigrationists always talked a great deal about “the spirit,” about the ultimate power of Spirit, about the irreconcilable differences between spirit-filled bodies and mere flesh. And even today, the AHIJ’s cosmological contentions are perched on that same dividing line, especially their central ideas about health and human life, the very ideas that would begin to take on the particularities of their current shape with a second exodus from Liberia to Israel...

  19. SEVENTEEN Visitations
    (pp. 125-132)

    The AHIJ placed us—me, my wife, and a Jewish-American friend who agreed to come along as an informal research assistant—in one of their fairly spacious guesthouses just outside the AHIJ’s “Village of Peace”(Kibbutz Shomrey Ha Shalom),the official name of theirkfarin the Kingdom’s capital, Dimona, a growing city developed for newly arrived European immigrants, especially Russians, during the 1950s, and roughly equidistant from Be’er Sheva to its West and the Live Sea farther East.¹

    After finishing a light vegan lunch that several female saints had prepared, carried to the guesthouse, and dutifully served, we sat...

  20. EIGHTEEN Immortality
    (pp. 133-142)

    “Back in the day, Sar [Ahmadiel] couldn’t have told us anything,” Sar Levi said, gripping the steering wheel, shaking his head, nodding at Ahmadiel, who was riding shotgun, and glancing periodically at me, seated in the backseat, through the rearview mirror. “Man, we’d have been ready to fight this brother. Fight! Physically. We didn’t want to hear nothing about what they were doing in Israel or anywhere else. If you’d have told me we’d be where we are now, I would have called you crazy. Impossible.”

    The three of us have just started a short drive on I-76 in Philadelphia....

  21. NINETEEN Jungle
    (pp. 143-148)

    Ben Ammi, Eliyahu Buie, and the other pro-emigration Israelite leaders shepherded, all in all, some 350 people from Chicago to Guryea, a rural area about 100 miles from Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. The year was 1967. Guryea was a remote place isolated from the relatively longer list of amenities that city life in Monrovia would have provided, and saints weren’t prepared for what that remoteness would demand from them. They crossed the Atlantic in drips and drabs, and a majority of the first few arrivals were women and children who left a few of the Israelite men, their husbands and fathers,...

  22. TWENTY Thin
    (pp. 149-156)

    Trinh Minh-ha and Jean-Paul Bourdier’s Musee du Quai Branly installation,The Other Walk,an exhibit that ran in Paris from 2006 to 2009, starts with a discussion of strolling as one simple gesture in the direction of infinity, a tiny instantiation of the kinds of immortalities intrinsic to daily life. “Walking is an experience of indefiniteness and of infinity,” they say, by way of curatorial notes. “With each step forward, one receives the gifts of the universe.”¹ This striding—in lockstep with forever—is another way to gloss how one might embrace the peripatetic and sprawling nature of all ethnographic...

  23. TWENTY-ONE Carrel
    (pp. 157-162)

    I first heard about Alexis Carrel from Rofeh Yehoshuah, one of the Kingdom’s main healers, a man in his late thirties who helps run thekfar’s birthing clinic and health center,Beyt Chaym(House of Life).¹ He also runs a “redemptive reflexology,” “holy spinal alignment,” and massage business, “where you can fully experience the power of the ancient art of the laying-on of theHands of Life.” I was scheduled to conduct an interview with him and then I wanted to see if he had time to give me another guided tour of thekfar’s health facilities. Yehoshuah was running...

  24. TWENTY-TWO Orientalism
    (pp. 163-174)

    Afrocentrism often gets attacked for its romantically revisionist racial narratives and its sexist social proscriptions, for its attempts to recast canonical versions of history as purposeful distortions in service to “Eurocentric” (the AHIJ would say “Euro-Gentile”) ideological and political goals.¹ Most of this debate is organized around questions of ancient Egypt’s racial composition (were they “black” or not?) and framed in terms of the extent to which ancient Egyptian (read: African) mysteries served as fundamental building blocks for subsequent Greek (read: European) philosophies—and, therefore, as the very foundation for Western civilization, a Western civilization that has long defined its...

  25. TWENTY-THREE Digital
    (pp. 175-178)

    At the start of this millennium, a group of AHIJ emissaries approached a successful African American entrepreneur with a business proposition. The Philadelphia-based businessman knew little about the lives of these individuals or about the transnational group that they represented, but he was intrigued by the ambitiousness of their pitch. The terms of the proposal would change radically over time (from a request for hands-off venture capital to more collaborative configurations of cross-Atlantic partnership to a final scenario that found the American businessman and his family playing a decidedly leading role in the entire endeavor). But the idea itself, the...

  26. TWENTY-FOUR Children
    (pp. 179-186)

    I met Oriyahu, a teenage saint who was born and raised in thekfar,within a few days of my second visit to Dimona. The meeting was brief, but I had already read quite a bit about him before I’d arrived. In 2004, he became the first AHIJ high school graduate drafted into the Israeli Defense Force. More than sixty other teenage saints were slated to join him very soon, and many had already reported to the draft office in the nearby city of Be’er Sheva, a grand demonstration of the group’s commitment to the Israeli state and appreciation of...

  27. TWENTY-FIVE Eden
    (pp. 187-192)

    Despite all the determined effort, their Liberian experiment seemed only to get worse by the day. Life was harder than many of the migrants had imagined, much harder, and things weren’t easing up as the weeks dragged on. The early settlers had their work cut out for them, a lot to juggle and still not nearly enough help, even with the newly enlisted local recruits. But there were other issues. For one thing, a small portion of the earliest émigrés weren’t actually Israelites at all. It was just a tiny minority, but that still came with some costs. The community’s...

  28. TWENTY-SIX Disciplining
    (pp. 193-198)

    Abir Ha Cohane (Ahbir the Priest) has started writing a book that outlines his approach to Edenic energy exercises and African/Edenic Hebrew Israelite martial artistry. Besides being one of the Kingdom’s priests, Cohane Ahbir is a rofeh (healer), and runs thekfar’s Academy of Life Discipline, which teaches a form of spiritual-physical exercise techniques founded on “original prophetic writings in the Holy Bible.” The Philosophy of Divine Martial-Arts Discipline is based on several key principles: the fundamental worship and glory of Yah; the rejection of violence except in self-defense, especially “in defense of the Kingdom of Yah”; and an approach...

  29. TWENTY-SEVEN Zimreeyah
    (pp. 199-206)

    We were on our honeymoon in Portugal when I heard that recording artists Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown had taken some of their family members and friends on a trip to visit the AHIJ’s Kingdom of Yah in Dimona.¹ It became international news, which is how we found out about it, via CNN reports on our hotel’s television set. I remember seeing their photo-op with Ariel Sharon and learning that they were staying with “a group of African Americans originally from the United States.” Those other Hebrew Israelites (ICUPKers) in Harlem had already piqued my interest in this competing group...

  30. TWENTY-EIGHT Sincere
    (pp. 207-214)

    The term “ethnography” is used to define both a literary genre (descriptive social scientific writings that attempt to capture groups’ cultural beliefs and practices) and an approach to producing those written accounts (collecting data through methodical observations and face-to-face interactions over an extended period of time). Anthropology’s emphasis on ethnography is still considered one of its most distinctive features, and an ambitiously holistic (holystic?) intervention. Even in an age when human genomics and the statistical analysis of massive data sets are popularly considered, in many circles, far more compellingly “scientific” and “objective” techniques for analyzing social life, potential Holy Grails...

  31. TWENTY-NINE Casein
    (pp. 215-220)

    The Kingdom trains its scholars at the School of the Prophets, producing specialists in statesmanship, diplomacy, history, the priest hood, preventive medicine, nutrition, and more. Founded by Prince Shaleahk Ben Yehuda in 1975, the school has recently started an online extension, the Institute of Regenerative Truth, which aims to “acknowledge the Creator in all things, seek the ancient truths once hidden, clarify our responsibility to the planet and each other, and promote spirituality through culture.”¹ The school’s dean, Ahtur Khazriel, launched IRT as a way to bring thekfar’s instructors, its “master teachers,” to the many saints living outside of...

  32. THIRTY Prodigal
    (pp. 221-226)

    One twenty-year-old saint in the community, “a son,” as elders would say, tells the moving story of his relationship with an older brother, a skinnier and taller twenty-something who has recently left thekfarand moved into an apartment in Tel Aviv with the Israeli mother of his newborn child. She isn’t a member of the Kingdom, and the two of them didn’t get married, which helps explain why the brothers’ relationship has gotten more complicated. This decision to leave the community effectively meant that the older brother was no longer in the Kingdom, not fully. Breaking Yah’s covenant meant...

  33. THIRTY-ONE Esau
    (pp. 227-232)

    Although others might have been confused about how to define them, the Israelites leaving for Liberia in 1967 were very sure about what made them different from Jews. They had spent many hours in Chicago clarifying that distinction, and using it as a way to galvanize community members for their departure. The elders talked at length about it, used biblical passages to explain things, and framed the entirety of their nationalist project around that singular distinction. Jews, including black Jews, they argued, practiced a religion. Black Israelites embraced their true nationality, their actual heritage.¹

    “Israelites are the descendants of Abraham,...

  34. THIRTY-TWO Soul
    (pp. 233-238)

    Ben Ammi’s full-time presence in Liberia by 1968 helped to boost morale, but everyone continued to feel the financial pinch, very tangible difficulties that resulted from the lack of resources. Several men in the community were, like Ben Ammi, veterans of the American military, so they had some basic training in survival skills, but this wasn’t supposed to feel like the throes of combat. If anything, Liberia was envisioned as an escape from the horrors of Babylonian warfare, from the humiliations and brutalities of American racism. It was supposed to be a glorious new start. Instead, they had exchanged a...

  35. THIRTY-THREE Laughing
    (pp. 239-244)

    Carolyn Rouse keeps reminding me to think more seriously about the ethnographic significance of humor, most recently at an American Anthropological Association conference. We were on a panel together, and she spent some of her time talking about ethnographies that made her laugh, productively and profoundly, even while treating dreadful and tragic subjects. Her point resonated with many of the people in that room. The very idea made some audience members smile.

    Anthropologists, she argued, shouldn’t underestimate how much humanity’s existential difference is constituted, at least in part, by our uncanny ability to find the smallest, incongruous comedic pathway through...

  36. THIRTY-FOUR Occulted
    (pp. 245-252)

    Paschal Beverly Randolph was a self-educated African American born in Manhattan in 1825.¹ He was raised on a patch of what was then a teeming, soot-filled slum known as “Five Points,” a neighborhood where several of the city’s most dangerous and sometimes bloody streets intersected. A tragedy far from unusual for the time period, Randolph’s mother died of cholera when he was only six years old, during the epidemic of 1831, and the tale of his father, of “the Virginia Randolphs,” seems to have been made up, by Randolph himself, out of little more than wishful dreams.

    Despite humble and...

  37. THIRTY-FIVE Order
    (pp. 253-264)

    The political structure of the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem begins with Ben Ammi at the top. As messiah, his edicts carry absolute authority. The Kingdom is far from a democracy, and Ben Ammi has preached (at New World Passover ceremonies and on many other special occasions) about the evil presuppositions of democracy. “Western democracy is marked by a relentless hostility towards Divine authority,” writes Ben Ammi, “and without respect to that authority as a means of ensuring law and order, society is bound to fall apart.”¹ At a time when everyone seems to publicly laud the value of democratic...

  38. THIRTY-SIX Genesis
    (pp. 265-274)

    Saints residing in Israel during the 1970s and 1980s lived lives fraught with all kinds of vulnerabilities. These were lives rife with elaborate and sometimes illegal schemes for financing members’ clandestine return to Israel whenever some of them were periodically rounded up and deported, sent back to the United States by the Israeli government, which was an everyday fear within thekfar. Nasik Asiel and Sar Ahmadiel were both defendants in different American lawsuits brought against them for alleged criminal activities, crimes in service to attempts at bringing (or returning) saints to Israel from America as often as possible.


  39. THIRTY-SEVEN Insincerities
    (pp. 275-280)

    Sincerity is a category of inescapable doubt that is only retroactively coated with certainty, a self-delusional reading of other people’s insides and intentions.¹ It also flags our fears of betrayal, of the powers of dissimulation. It marks some of the uneasiness and confusion that constitutes the ethnographic axis linking informants and anthropologist, their backstages and frontstages digitally fused in increasingly permanent ways. To spend a lot of time on the changing terms of ethnographic relationships is potentially dismissed as a quietist act, an example of reflexivity used as an excuse for political inactivity. What manner of irresponsibility and self-aggrandizement would...

  40. THIRTY-EIGHT Sumerians
    (pp. 281-288)

    In November 2008, Nasik Gavriel and his first wife, Aturah Rofah Karaliah, were surprised to learn that saints had organized a huge gala in thekfar’s Hilltop Manor in celebration of the couple’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. The room’s walls and windows were intricately draped in billowed rolls of dark blue and gold cloth, giving the entire event an aura of regality. Singers from all around the Kingdom, Israel and abroad, danced together and serenaded the pair—in English and Hebrew—with both Divine Music Selections and karaoke’d American tunes like “Stand by Me” and “What a Wonderful World.” Several of...

  41. THIRTY-NINE Munir
    (pp. 289-292)

    Brothers Jonathan and Daniel Boyarin, an anthropologist and a historian respectively, characterize some versions of “the Jew” as a kind of trickster, a sex-changing counterpuncher who deconstructs and discombobulates conventional orderings of time and space.¹ This is a trickster whose skills are invaluably “sharp practices in a time of colonial domination.”² And the trickster’s sharpest practice, they argue, is guile and deception, which they offer as an emphatic rejection of martyrdom, a practice with its own too-easy concessions to the straightforward sense of time that an inevitable, inescapable, and sacrificial death presupposes. The trickster doesn’t wait for time’s many inherent...

  42. FORTY Brochure
    (pp. 293-298)

    I consider myself a pretty committed ethnographic filmmaker, but I have never given any serious thought to the idea of making a film about the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem. That’s partly because they make films about themselves that already crackle with such wonderful ethnographicness, films about their newly constructed facility in Benin (a much more elaborate version of the Dimonakfar), about the workings of their organic farms, about the Day of the Show of Strength, about a half-brother who has left the community but continues to be thought about and prayed for by the family members he’s left...

  43. FORTY-ONE Rabbi
    (pp. 299-304)

    Rabbi Capers Funnye heads a congregation of Black Jews in Chicago that includes several former saints from the AHIJ community, even a few of its earliest members and their offspring, most notably Moishe Buie, a former “deputy leader” from Chicago (and son of Elder Eliyahu Buie) who was sometimes quoted by the press as a spokesperson for the first few émigrés.¹ “We want to be Liberians,” he declared toThe Liberian Age,“we don’t want to be Americans. We are in Africa to stay, and there is no turning back.”² Moishe Buie lives in Chicago, and he is a teacher...

  44. FORTY-TWO Hebrews
    (pp. 305-308)

    One of the ways in which some African Americans talk about “Black Jews” (to disparage them) is as an example of black people trying to deny their blackness, even as a demonstration of internalized racism; like the joke about African Americans trying to claim Cherokee ancestors in their family trees. Though such things aren’t always a laughing matter, except in thatto-keep-from-cryingkind of way. Leo Felton, the biracial neo-Nazi skinhead who had to pretend to be from southern Italy so that his white supremacist friends would let him conspire with them to blow up Jewish monuments in New England,...

  45. FORTY-THREE Zombie
    (pp. 309-314)

    Postracial. That’s the term Americans use to describe our contemporary moment, or at least aspirations for it. We are obsessed with getting passed discussions of our racial past and with deconstructing the social identities of all comers, relentlessly exposing their artificial and political coordinates. Even the Kingdom’s public recantations of earlier commitments to hyperracial versions of group belonging (a recantation process already underway, remember, in the early 1980s when Bayard Rustin voiced skepticism about Ammi’s sincerity on the matter) can be read as presaging postracialism’s sprawling ubiquities. But a composite examination of Hebrews and Blacks Jews and Israelites and Hebrew...

    (pp. 315-320)

    Once the novelty and euphoria of physical emigration finally wore off and the abiding difficulties of their hardscrabble existence in Liberia wore on, the truly daunting nature of the community’s venture became joltingly clear. There was no denying the herculean task before them. This would take relentless effort, single-minded focus, and an unyielding faith in Yah’s prophetic plan.

    Everyday brought new challenges, unforeseen emergencies, life-and-death decisions. Migrants continued to battle diseases. They staggered from debilitating snakebites, succumbed to bizarre accidents. Generator fuel exploded, burning more than a few of the men. One child fell down a well, careening to her...

  47. FORTY-FIVE Seconds
    (pp. 321-328)

    I wasn’t quite sure if it was more my preoccupation or theirs, but when I first started visiting the community and talking to saints in 2005, I felt like I heard that number, and the phrase, several times: 45 seconds. 45 seconds. “The 45 seconds.” Almost a kind of mantra. It was a reference to the exact length of Ben Ammi’s visitation from Angel Gabriel back in 1966. The point of saints’ reiterations of that phrase was to marvel at the brevity, the ephemerality, of Ben Ammi’s celestial dialogue. It wasonly. . . 45 seconds. That’s all. A...

  48. Notes
    (pp. 329-376)
  49. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 377-380)
  50. Index
    (pp. 381-394)