A memorial service was held on Sept. 2 for Prince Asiel Ben Israel at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Ben Israel was a well-known leader of the Black Hebrew Israelites. He was 81.
According to his family, Ben Israel died on Aug. 21. No cause of death was given.
Prince Asiel Ben Israel was a respected leader of “unity” in both the Black and Jewish communities.
The Black Hebrew Israelites (also called Hebrew Israelites, Black Hebrews, Black Israelites, and African Hebrew Israelites) believe that they are the descendants of the ancient Israelites. They incorporate certain aspects of the religious beliefs and practices of both Christianity and Judaism and they have created their own interpretation of the Bible.
Many local residents attended the services, as did U.S. Rep Danny Davis.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot also paid her respects, saying he spent his life serving Black people.
“He was unapologetic about the beauty and greatness of Black people. He categorically rejected each and every narrative that portrayed any of us as less than the beautiful people that we are, who have built this country and built a legacy about which we and our children, and our children’s children should be proud,” she said.
Ben Israel, who took many Black Chicagoans to live in Israel, spent decades as the international ambassador of the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem, a group that started in the Great Plains during the 1890s, The Chicago Tribune reported. The community emulates Jesus’ life and practices as a Jew, according to Jacob Dorman, author of “Chosen People: The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions.”
Born Warren Brown in 1941, Ben Israel was exposed to the teachings of the Israelites and African ancestry. It was given the Hebrew name Prince Asiel (prince of blessings) by Ben Ammi Carter, the spiritual leader of the group.
In 1971, Ben Israel moved to Dimona, Israel, to join Ben Ammi Ben-Israel’s African Hebrew Israelite Nation of Jerusalem. Returning to Chicago, in 1981, Ben Israel and his wife, Yohanna Brown, opened Original Soul Vegetarian, a vegan restaurant on the South Side of Chicago.
Ben Israel has served as president and CEO of Bold Spiritual Initiative, president of Africa Israel Asia, international spokesperson for Straight Talk Economic Roundtable, chairman of First Africa Corporation, a sponsor of the annual Holy Jerusalem Summit Conferences, and a convener of the National Leadership Council of African Americans. In addition to all of this, Ben Israel also served with Support-a-Child International, Inc., as a board member of the International United Black Fund, coordinator of the African Development Program’s private volunteer organization project and director of its international fundraising projects, as a special economic advisor to the World Conference of Mayors, as an advisor to the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus, and as a member of the African American Clergy Network of Chicago, according to Historymakers.
Photo: Prince Asiel Ben Israel, screenshot from Pastor John J. Tatum YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QGS_Yr15dI