»Events»“Here I can Like Watermelon”: Culinary Redemption among African Hebrew Israelites
“Here I can Like Watermelon”: Culinary Redemption among African Hebrew Israelites
Every May, The African Hebrew Israelite Community (AHIC), a transnational millenarian group with its headquarters in the Israeli desert town of Dimona, celebrates its most important festival: “New World Passover”. Commemorating their exodus from “the land of great captivity” (the US) to Israel, the colorful, joyful event has a striking culinary feature: a huge pile of some fifteen tons of watermelon is set in the park amidst the celebrators, who gorge on the juicy fruit along with their many guests. In this article, based on ongoing ethnographic study conducted in Dimona’s “Kefar HaShalom” (Village of Peace), the AHIC spiritual and administrative center, we explore the various meanings attributed by members of the AHIC to the watermelon: as a healthy, tasty marker of the season; as a natural aphrodisiac; and as an expression of the community’s newly found freedom in Israel. We coin the term “culinary redemption” to engage theoretically with these transformations in substance and meaning incurred upon the watermelon by the AHIC members. We argue that watermelons, and the community’s vegan soul food, which are associated with Afro-American culture in adverse modes, are material and spiritual expressions of the transformation that allows AHIC members to deal with and overcome American and Israeli prejudice and racism.