The tragic announcement came on Sunday but did not reveal a cause of death or any funeral arrangements.
Despite no announcement of an official cause of death, it was known that the spiritual leader was receiving treatment at the Saroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva for an illness.
It was crushing news for the community, known by many as the “Black Hebrews,” but a spokesperson for the group said the loss of their leader is just a physical one.
“While obviously deeply saddened at the loss of our Holy Father’s physical presence, we are nevertheless emboldened in knowing that his spirit truly lives in each and every one of us,” Ahmadiel Ben Yehuda said in a public statement. “His example and focused commitment to Yah and His people will be an eternal flame in our hearts and a guiding light on our path.”
Another community spokesperson said the focus for now is to make it through this time of grieving and explain to younger followers what exactly is going on.
“We are focusing on sitting with our children and staying with family to explain what happened,” said Yahav Montgomery, a community spokesman, according to Ynetnews. “We are united and focusing on continuing the actions of the rabbi, our leaders. We still haven’t come to grips with it and it is a pain and sorrow that cannot be expressed—but we will overcome this.”
It was back in 1966 that Ben-Israel, born Ben Carter, said he had a vision from the angel Gabriel that told him to “return to the holy land by way in which we came.”
The African Hebrew Israelites believe that some Black Americans are descendants of the biblical tribe of Judah. These Black Americans are believed to have migrated to west Africa after the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD before being enslaved and sold to slave owners in America.
In 1969, Ben-Israel led his group of followers back to Israel and they eventually settled in the poverty-stricken town of Dimona.
Despite a decades-long struggle to obtain citizenship in Israel, followers remembered the deep love that their spiritual leader had for the land.
“Ben Ammi’s immense love for the Land of Israel remained constant throughout his life—from the initial awakening to his Hebraic roots,” the group said in a statement following their leader’s death, according to the NY Daily News.
The group had been awarded temporary residency back in the 1990s, but it wasn’t until 2003 that they were granted permanent residency.
Ben-Israel himself only received his citizenship a year and a half ago in a special ceremony with former interior minister Gideon Sa’ar.
The community issued a day of mourning following Ben-Israel’s death and canceled all school on Sunday.