Spiritual Retreat In Israel...

[Israel Insider Report]

Pop star Whitney Houston visits Black Hebrews on spiritual retreat in Israel
By Debbie Berman  May 27, 2003

International singing superstar Whitney Houston and her family arrived in Israel for a week-long visit as guests of the Black Hebrew community in Dimona. Houston is slated to meet with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon tonight in Jerusalem.

"We're happy to be here," declared Houston, 40, and her husband, former singer Bobby Brown, accompanied by their daughter and a 16-person entourage. "We arrived in Israel for a spiritual visit, to meet with our brothers and sisters in Dimona. We are very excited and looking forward to our visit," the couple said at an emotional arrival ceremony at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Sunday.

Houston has sold more than 180 million copies of her albums and has won a number of Grammy music awards. She starred in the film The Bodyguard with Kevin Costner. In a television interview with Barbara Walters, Houston admitted addictions to drugs and sex, and there have been reports that her marriage with Brown has been occasionally violent.

According to media reports, Houston came to Israel "looking for inspiration" for an upcoming Christmas album and to make a recording with the musical members of the Black Hebrew community. Houston will also take the opportunity to scout for filming sites for a proposed television program with Stevie Wonder, one report said.

"Whitney came to support Israeli tourism and she plans to tour the country," said Black Hebrew community member Assiel Ben-Israel. "We love her and we will try to make her stay with us as pleasant as possible."

"She is loving it. She is a spiritual woman and wanted to come here and touch the land and be around the saints of Dimona," said Patricia Houston, Whitney's spokeswoman and sister-in-law, who explained that the trip to Israel had been postponed several times due to security concerns. Black Hebrew community representatives are hoping that the Houston's visit to Israel will spark renewed tourism among the African American community.

"A journey of spiritual purification"
Yeda'a Bat Israel, the Black Hebrews spokesperson, explained the connection between the pop diva and the Israeli group: "You have to understand, black-skinned people always dream of visiting the Holy Land. We're Jews and she's Christian, but the holiness of Israel is common to different religions. Whitney came to Israel on a journey of spiritual purification and to visit the holy sites and we're glad that she's coming with her children. It's important they see the places they've read about over the years."

The Black Hebrews are a community comprised of some 1,500-2,000 members who consider themselves to be of Jewish lineage and observe Jewish laws and customs. The community re-located to Israel in the late 1960s following spiritual leader Ben Ami Ben Israel. Today most of the Black Hebrews live in Dimona, Arad and Mitzpe Ramon where they live a modest communal life, adhere to strict vegan diets. Many members of the community practice polygamy.

"We are descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We were exiled from Israel in the year 70 CE when the Romans conquered it. We wandered to Africa and were taken as slaves to the U.S. All the years we maintained our Judaism, as much as we could. In 1966, Ben Ami had a vision that it was time to move to Israel," Bat Israel stated.

The Black Hebrews have been struggling for years to get the state of Israel to recognize them as Jews. They recently received the status of temporary residents and are still hoping to become full-fledged Israeli citizens someday. "We have hope that the new interior minister, Avraham Poraz, will help us find a solution," said Bat Israel.

Some 250 Black Hebrew members joined Houston for a five-hour cruise on a yacht in the Gulf of Eilat yesterday. During the boat tour a wedding of two community members was conducted, and the community choir performed for an enthusiastic Houston. Tonight Whitney is scheduled to fly from Eilat to Jerusalem for her meeting with Sharon.




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