U.S. Sect Buries Mideast Victim

DIMONA, Israel (AP) Jan. 20

The music in their Sabbath ceremonies seems more like gospel hymns than Hebrew psalms and their children dress with hip-hop attitude, complete with dark glasses and baggy trousers.

The Hebrew Israelites, as they call themselves, a group of African-Americans who regard themselves as the true descendants of the biblical tribe of Judah, buried their first victim of Mideast violence on Sunday.

Aharon Ben-Ellis, 32, was shot dead when a Palestinian gunman charged into a Jewish coming-of-age party last week and opened fire. Five others were killed and dozens wounded. Ben-Ellis had been working as a singer at the party.

Ben-Ellis was the first of the group to be born in Dimona, the desert community where the group's founders settled after leaving Chicago.

The funeral ceremony, led by five priests dressed in white and sky blue tunics with white crocheted skullcaps, featured a mix of Hebrew psalms and popular music.

The group, which practices polygamy, is not accepted by Israel as Jewish. The mourners, however, included Dimona's chief rabbi, mayor and a representative of the Israeli government.

The U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Dan Kurtzer, also sent a representative.

About 70 mourners, including Israelis, listened as one of the priests, Kohane Yehuda, prayed for the Israeli government to accept the group.

"We have to sacrifice our son to prove our worthiness and to be recognized in the eyes of Israel," he said.

"What more will happen until we are accepted in this community?" cried Eddie Butler, Ellis' best friend, as mourners shoveled dirt into the grave.

Ellis's parents arrived in Dimona in 1969 from Chicago, among the first pilgrims to establish the "Kingdom of Yah" as they call their community in Dimona.

The community has grown from its original 39 followers of Chicago bus driver Ben Ammi to more than 2,000.

The 900 children born since the movement's establishment never received Israeli citizenship since they were not accepted as Jews. Ellis was only the second member of the community to be buried in a cemetery for people whose Jewishness is in dispute.

Other members of the community were buried next to a garbage dump near the cemetery, said one group leader, Elyakim Ben-Shaliyah.

Ellis lived in the Tel Aviv area, working in construction during the day and as a singer with various bands at night, Butler said. The community is well-known for its gospel choir.

In 1990, the group was given permission to stay in Israel indefinitely, provided that the immigration of more followers was halted. A few years later, group members were granted permanent residency, but not citizenship.