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How many Hebrew Israelites are there, and how worried should Jews be?

(JTA) — Dressed in matching purple hoodies and shirts, with gold fringes attached to the bottom in observance of Deuteronomy 22:12, hundreds of members of a controversial Hebrew Israelite group marched through the streets of Brooklyn on Sunday.

“Hey Jacob, it’s time to wake up,” they chanted, using a term for people of color who have yet to embrace their “true” identity as descendants of the Biblical Jacob, later called Israel. “We got good news for you: YOU are the real Jews.”

The march and a demonstration that followed at the Barclays Center were organized by Israel United in Christ in solidarity with Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving, who was suspended for eight games after he posted a link to an antisemitic film on social media last month and then was slow to apologize. But IUIC has also used the controversy to promote its incendiary ideology and recruit new followers into what it calls “God’s army.”

After the demonstration — the second held by IUIC outside of the Brooklyn arena this month — the group’s founder posted a message on his Twitter account. “We are not here for violence,” Bishop Nathanyel Ben Israel wrote, “we are here for the spiritual war.”

Before 2019, those American Jews who were even aware of the once-obscure Black Hebrew Israelite spiritual movement likely associated it with the loud but non-violent street preachers who would harangue pedestrians in city centers. In December of that year, however, extremists professing Israelite beliefs attacked a kosher grocery store in Jersey City, New Jersey and a Hanukkah party in Monsey, New York. Two Jews were killed in Jersey City, and a 72-year-old rabbi who was stabbed in the head in Monsey died from his injuries three months later.

With the memory of those attacks still fresh, and against the backdrop of a surge this fall in public expressions of antisemitism combined with threats of violence against Jewish communities emanating from other extremist corners, the militant posturing of IUIC has alarmed many Jews already on edge.

Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone of Crown Heights observed on Twitter that the Israelites who regularly preach near his home on Shabbat have been “particularly aggressive” of late, heaping verbal abuse on both him and his children. On Sunday afternoon, Lightstone posted a video of IUIC members assembling for their march and rehearsing their chants in Grand Army Plaza.

“Terrifying,” commented Elisheva Rishon, a Black and Jewish fashion designer who blames Hebrew Israelites for inflaming tensions between the two communities to which she belongs. A few Twitter users compared the march to the 2017 far-right rally in Charlottesville, at which participants chanted “Jews will not replace us.”

The recent IUIC rallies give the impression that the radical wing of the Hebrew Israelite movement is large and riled up. Meanwhile, recent comments by Kanye West, the rapper who now goes by Ye, and Irving that align with elements of Hebrew Israelite doctrine suggest the movement has broad support among powerful Black celebrities.

But how big is the movement in reality? What percentage are extremists who assail Jews as impostors who stole their heritage from them? And if Black Israelism has entered the marketplace of mainstream religions in the United States, should Jews be concerned?

The numbers

The only available statistics on Israelite identification in the United States were collected as part of a small national survey conducted by an evangelical Christian research firm in 2019. For that survey, which sought to capture African-American attitudes toward the state of Israel, Lifeway Research asked 1,019 African Americans, “Which of the following best describes your opinion of Black Hebrew Israelite teachings?”

Most respondents (62%) said they are not familiar with the teachings, but 19% said they agree with “most of the core ideas taught by Black Hebrew Israelites,” and 4% said they consider themselves Hebrew Israelites. The remaining 15% said they either “firmly oppose” the teachings or disagree with most of them. (The survey did not specify what those teachings are.)

The 2020 U.S. Census put the Black population at 41.1 million, so extrapolating from the Lifeway data, there are approximately 1.6 million Hebrew Israelites in the U.S. — not counting the small numbers of Latinos and Native Americans who also belong to Israelite groups — and 7.8 million people who may not identify as Israelites but who agree with the spiritual movement’s main teachings.

For lots of these people, the attention that West and Irving have brought to their belief system has been validating.

“Israelism is becoming part of the plausibility structure of Black America,” Christian activist and author Vocab Malone told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, referring to a social context in which certain ideas are considered credible. “The suspicions that a lot of folks have toward the Jewish community, they think they’re vindicated now.”

Scott McConnell, Lifeway’s executive director, told JTA that the survey’s sponsor, the Christian Zionist organization Philos Project, supplied the question about Hebrew Israelite teachings. Asked if there are plans to include similar questions in future surveys, he replied, “I know there are some pastors at African-American churches that have concerns about some of their parishioners being led astray by the teachings of the Hebrew Israelites, so we’ll keep it on our radar.”

Malone, who uses an alias in keeping with hip-hop culture, is a close observer of the Israelite world. The Phoenix resident frequently engages in debates on the street and online with members of groups described as hateful by the Southern Poverty Law Center — including IUIC, Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge, Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ, and The Sicarii — in hopes of convincing them to follow what he considers to be the true path of Christianity.

Founded in 2003, IUIC has proven the most adept at creating public spectacles and garnering media coverage. The group operates 71 U.S. chapters and 20 international ones, according to the Anti-Defamation League, and it holds men’s conferences each year that culminate in choreographed marches on city streets, like the one on Sunday in Brooklyn. Based on the size of those marches, Malone estimated that national membership has grown from around 5,000 in 2015 to around 10,000 today. Other radical groups likely have much smaller memberships but don’t share any figures, preferring to “play their cards close to their chest,” Malone said.

These estimates suggest that the extremists comprise a very small percentage of the 1.6 Hebrew Israelites living in the United States.

Ultimately, IUIC has a goal of recruiting 144,000 Black, Latino and Native American people who will be spared by God during the end time, as foretold in the book of Revelation. In order to achieve this goal, the group sends representatives to proselytize overseas, including in parts of Africa and the Caribbean. (IUIC did not respond to requests for comment from JTA.)

Both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ADL monitor the activities of IUIC and other radical camps, as Israelites call their groups. However, spokespeople for both organizations told JTA they do not know how many people belong to these camps.

An online movement

What is clear is that the camps have greatly expanded their reach in recent years, taking their message from street corners to the entire globe thanks to the internet and social media. IUIC members run dozens of YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts where they post a constant stream of videos and memes, many containing antisemitic tropes. One recent Instagram post shows a startled-looking Hasidic Jewish man holding his hat above the words “The Synagogue of Satan.” (Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, uses similar language about Jews. A video he recorded this month defending West and Irving has been viewed millions of times.)

The main IUIC YouTube channel, @IUICintheClassRoom, has 126,000 subscribers and 29.4 million video views. A series of videos posted three years ago on the channels of local chapters provide some insight into how members hear about IUIC and why they join.

The most common way these members say they found their way to the camp was via videos they watched online. “Prior to actually coming to IUIC, I did do some Israelite window shopping,” recounts Officer Joshua of IUIC Tallahassee. “I always questioned myself, why is it that our people are at the bottom? How come we get the worst jobs and so forth? I knew Christianity wasn’t answering my questions, so what I did was I just started soul searching.”

As part of his quest, Joshua says he stumbled upon a video of Bishop Nathanyel and other IUIC leaders preaching on the street. “I was like man, these brothers really know what they’re doing, they really have our history,” he says. “That’s what actually made me do more research on IUIC and the truth.”

Sar (“Minister”) Ahmadiel Ben Yehuda speaks at the African Hebrew Israelites’ annual New World Passover celebration in Dimona, Israel, May 2013. (Andrew Esensten)

In another video, Sister Ezriella from the Concord, North Carolina, branch explains that as a young adult, she felt uncertain about her life’s purpose. Then her mother shared information with her about IUIC. “She was so happy it changed her life, I had to take notice and I had to come check it out for myself,” she says. “I fell in love with it. I fell in love with finding out who I am.”

A number of Black, male celebrities have also been drawn into the wider Israelite orbit in recent years, including rappers Kendrick Lamar and Kodak Black, TV host Nick Cannon, boxer Floyd Mayweather and retired NBA player Amar’e Stoudemire.

Some of these celebrities appear to have been exposed to Israelite teachings by relatives and other acquaintances. Lamar, who famously rapped “I’m a Israelite, don’t call me Black no mo’” on a 2017 song, learned about Israelism from a cousin who was involved with IUIC. Black began identifying as a Levite in 2017 after studying scripture with an Israelite priest while serving a jail sentence in Florida. Stoudemire has said his mother taught him he had “Hebraic roots.” (He officially converted to Judaism in 2020, a step most Israelites reject because it contradicts their claims of already being authentic Jews.)

Isabelle Williams, an analyst at ADL’s Center on Extremism who tracks radical Israelite camps, said celebrity endorsements of the ideology can have a big impact because they come from figures who are widely respected.

“If people came upon an extremist Black Hebrew Israelite group street preaching, it might be easier to dismiss it and recognize the extreme ideology behind it,” she said. “But when it’s being shared by these influential figures, people might be less likely to recognize the really insidious ideology and dangerous antisemitic conspiracy theories that are behind these statements.”

Williams added that a range of extremist groups have seized on comments made by West and Irving. “It’s not just BHI and NOI groups that are leveraging this moment,” Williams said. “We’ve seen white supremacists who are also using this recent attention and circulation of antisemitic conspiracy theories to promote their own agenda.”

Rabbi Capers Funnye is the most prominent Israelite leader in the U.S. He serves as chief rabbi of the International Israelite Board of Rabbis, an organization that provides spiritual guidance to about 2,500 people in the United States, along with tens of thousands of Israelites in southern and west Africa.

In an interview, Funnye condemned West, Irving and the radical Israelite camps that have rallied around them. “God is never about divisiveness,” Funnye said. “God is never about hatred. God is never about, ‘You ain’t.’ I don’t have to say what you aren’t to make me who I am.”

A member of the Chicago Board of Rabbis and the leader of a Chicago synagogue with a mixed membership of around 200 Jews and Israelites, Funnye was at pains to differentiate his community from IUIC and its ilk: His follows the Torah and supports the state of Israel, he said, while others follow both the Old and New Testaments, worship Jesus and reject Israel’s government as illegitimate.

“Whatever army that Kyrie is speaking about, we are not a part of his army,” he said, referring to a comment Irving made during an Oct. 29 press conference about how he has “a whole army” behind him.

But Funnye said another of Irving’s recent statements — “I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from” — resonated with him and his congregants.

“We are Semitic,” he said of Black people who identify as Israelites, “so now we really have to draw a line when antisemitism is only defined by one’s complexion or ethnicity. We were not the ones that racialized Judaism, and we will never racialize it because Jews are not a race.” (“Semitic” refers to people who speak Semitic languages, such as Hebrew and Arabic.)

Outside of the United States, the largest organized group of Hebrew Israelites is located in Israel. The African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem are a Dimona-based community of more than 3,000 African-American expatriates and their Israeli-born offspring.

African Hebrew Israelite youth serve in the army — not Kyrie Irving’s or IUIC’s army, but the Israel Defense Forces. After 53 years in Israel, the community has never been fully accepted, in part because they are not Jewish according to halacha, or Jewish law. Currently, some 100 community members are being threatened with deportation for living in the country illegally.

Ahmadiel Ben Yehuda, the African Hebrew Israelites’ minister of information, said he interpreted Irving’s remarks as a reference to “the global awakening of people of African ancestry to their Hebraic roots.” He said the backlash Irving has faced shows that the conversation around this awakening must involve qualified representatives of communities who can cite reputable sources — not documentaries such as the one Irving boosted — “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America” — in support of their claims of Israelite ancestry.

“What is certain is that Israel and Judaism must figure out a way to better accommodate these communities,” Ben Yehuda said. “This is not going to fade away, and it shouldn’t. It will intensify as the awakening continues.”

How this awakening will affect Jews and established Jewish communities remains to be seen.

In September, George Washington University’s Program on Extremism released a report titled “Contemporary Violent Extremism and the Black Hebrew Israelite Movement.” The report noted that the “predominant threat” today comes not from Israelite groups themselves but from “individuals loosely affiliated with or inspired by the movement.”

Malone, the Christian activist, cautioned that as the extremist wing of the Israelite movement grows, more violent lone wolves may emerge.

“There’s a big funnel with any movement, and the bigger the funnel is, you get certain things down at the bottom,” he said. “This is not Buddhism. This is a different kind of thing with a different kind of rhetoric.”


The post How many Hebrew Israelites are there, and how worried should Jews be? appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Canada’s economic growth projected to be about 1% in the first half of 2024

Canada is a country with a thriving Jewish community and has traditionally offered the security of a strong economy for residents. The national economic outlook is naturally something that everyone in Canada’s Jewish community keeps track of – especially those involved in business in the various provinces.

With this in mind, the July 2023 Monetary Policy Report from the Bank of Canada made for interesting reading, projecting a moderate economic growth figure of around 1% for the first half of 2024. This is in line with growth figures that had been forecast for the second half of 2023, and sees the country’s economy remain on a stable footing.

Steady projected growth for first half of 2024

Although projected economic growth of around 1% in early 2024 is not as impressive as figures of around 3.4% in 2022 and 1.8% in 2023, it is certainly no cause for alarm. But what might be behind it?

Higher interest rates are one major factor to consider and have had a negative impact on household spending nationally. This has effectively seen people with less spending power and businesses in Canada generating less revenue as a result.

Interest rate rises have also hit business investments nationally, and less money is being channelled into this area to fuel Canada’s economic growth. When you also factor in how the weak foreign demand for Canadian goods and services has hit export growth lately, the projected GDP growth figure for early 2024 is understandable.

Growth in second half of 2024 expected

Although the above may make for interesting reading for early 2024, the Bank of Canada’s report does show that economic growth is expected to pick up in the second half of the year. This is projected to be due to the decreasing effect of high interest rates on the Canadian economy and a stronger foreign demand for the country’s exports.

Moving forward from this period, it is predicted that inflation will remain at around 3% as we head into 2025, and hit the Bank of Canada’s inflation target of 2% come the middle of 2025. All of this should help the country’s financial status remain stable and prove encouraging for business leaders in the Jewish community.

Canada’s economic growth mirrors iGaming’s rise

When you take a look at the previous growth figures Canada has seen and also consider the growth predicted for 2024 (especially in the second half of the year), it is clear that the country has a vibrant, thriving economy.

This economic growth is something that can be compared with iGaming’s recent rise as an industry around the country. In the same way as Canada has steadily built a strong economy over time, iGaming has transformed itself into a powerful, flourishing sector.

This becomes even clearer when you consider that Canadian iGaming has been a major contributor to the sustained growth seen in the country’s arts, entertainment and recreation industry, which rose by around 1.9% in Q2 of 2023. The healthy state of online casino play in Canada is also evidenced by how many customers the most popular casino platforms attract and how the user experience these operators offer has enabled iGaming in the country to take off.

This, of course, is also something that translates to the world stage, where global iGaming revenues in 2023 hit an estimated $95 billion. iGaming’s global market volume is also pegged to rise to around $130 billion by 2027. These kinds of figures represent a sharp jump for iGaming worldwide and show how the sector is on the ascent.

Future economic outlook for Canada in line with global expectations

When considering the Canadian economic outlook for 2024, it is often useful to look at how this compares with global financial predictions. In addition to the rude health of iGaming in Canada being reflected in global online casino gaming, the positive economic outlook for the country is also broadly in line with expectations for many global economies.

Global growth is also predicted to rise steadily in the second half of 2024 before becoming stronger in 2025. This should be driven by the weakening effects of high interest rates on worldwide economic prosperity. With rate cuts in Canada already expected after Feb 2024’s inflation report, this could happen in the near future.

The performance of the US economy is always of interest in Canada, as this is the country’s biggest trading partner. Positive US Q2 performances in 2023, powered by a strong labor market, good consumer spending levels and robust business investments, were therefore a cause for optimism. As a US economy that continues to grow is something that Canadian businesses welcome, this can only be a healthy sign.

Canada set for further growth in 2024

Local news around Canada can cover many topics but the economy is arguably one of the most popular. A projected GDP growth figure of around 1% for Canada’s economy shows that the financial state of the country is heading in the right direction. An improved financial outlook heading into the latter half of 2024/2025 would make for even better reading, and the national economy should become even stronger.

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The Legal Landscape of Online Gambling in Canada

Online gambling has grown in popularity around the globe in recent years. While many jurisdictions have legalized land-based gambling, it hasn’t applied to online platforms. Nonetheless, Canada is one nation that has legalized online gambling with their provinces’ licensing and regulating sites.

Nonetheless, Canadians of legal age can enjoy playing their favourite online games where available. So many games like slots, blackjack, and roulette still maintain their popularity even in the digital sense.  Want to learn about what’s legal in Canada for online gambling? Let’s take a look.

What is legal for online gambling in Canada?

What is the best online casino in Canada? The list we provide you here should be a good start. It’s also important to note that most Canadian provinces do not have laws that prohibit offshore online casinos.

Many provinces provide licensing to online casinos. They even regulate them as well. For example, Alberta and British Columbia have sites regulated by their respective governing bodies. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) allows legal online gambling and oversees the services it offers to Maritime provinces such as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, there are some caveats to address. In Newfoundland and Labrador, online gambling that is not offered by the ALC is considered illegal. Therefore, it is the only Canadian province as of 2024 that prohibits offshore options.

In terms of the legal age, there are three provinces where the legal age is 18: Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec. The remaining provinces establish 19 as the legal age for gambling including online.

Who are the regulatory bodies for gambling in Canada?

At the Federal level, the Canadian Gaming Association is the regulatory body for gambling in Canada. Thus, they cover both land-based and online gambling in the country. There are also provincial and regional regulatory bodies such as the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) – which covers the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador.  

The Western Canada Lottery Corporation covers Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon Territory. A handful of provinces also have their regulatory bodies covering lottery and gaming.

Canada requires online casinos that wish to accept players from the country to adhere to regulations and licensing. These licenses are provided by provincial regulatory bodies. When licensed, online casinos must follow the regulations and security standards.

However, there is the belief that many of the laws about gambling in Canada may be outdated. This could be because these laws were created long before the advent of the Internet. Therefore, such laws may need to be modernized. Nonetheless, online gambling for the most part is legal, just dependent on the province.

Are there any legal grey areas to discuss?

The grey area that is considered a concern pertains to the use of offshore sites. As mentioned earlier, Newfoundland and Labrador is believed to be the only province that prohibits it. Even online casinos with no licensing by Canadian or provincial authorities accept residents of the country.

On the players’ end, many Canadians are allowed to play at online casinos. However, they may be restricted from certain platforms. This is to ensure that the players themselves are protected from unknowingly playing on platforms that may be illegal. 

What are the other laws and regulations about online gambling in Canada?

Online casinos have implemented measures for responsible gambling. This includes providing support and resources to problem gamblers on their site. They are also restricted regarding the marketing and advertising aspects of promoting their platform. 

One restriction of note is that marketing that is targeted at minors is prohibited. Another prohibits professional athletes from appearing in online casino ads in Ontario.

Even offshore casinos must adhere to these laws and regulations. Especially if they have obtained a license from the provincial bodies that allow them to operate.

Canada’s online gambling is legal – but will things change

As it stands right now, the legality of online gambling in Canada seems to fall under the purview of provincial laws and regulations. Canadian citizens must perform their due diligence further to see which online casinos are allowed by their respective provinces. Just because it may be legal in one province, it may not be the same in others.

Nonetheless, the question is: will any laws relax certain restrictions? Will Newfoundland and Labrador change their tune regarding offshore casinos? It’s unclear what the future holds – but watch this space for any changes about online gambling in Canada.  

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Obituaries

Dr. NATHAN WISEMAN

Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

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