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 the great captivity” (the US) to Israel, the colorful, joyful event has a striking culinary feature: a huge pile of several tons of watermelon is set in the park amidst the celebrants, who feast on the juicy fruit along with their many guests. In this article, based on long-term ethnographic study conducted in Dimona’s “Kfar HaShalom” (Village of Peace), the AHIC spiritual and administrative center, we explore the various meanings attributed by group members to the watermelon as a healthy, tasty marker of the season; as a natural aphrodisiac; and as an expression of the community’s freedom in Israel. We coin the term “culinary redemption” to engage theoretically with these transformations in substance and meaning that are attributed to the watermelon. We argue that the community’s positive manipulations of watermelons, which are otherwise associated with African-American culture in adverse modes, are material and spiritual expressions of the AHIC’s transformation that allows its members to demonstrate their belonging to the land and people of Israel while dealing with and overcoming American and Israeli prejudice and racism.
- African Hebrew Israelite community
- Black Hebrews
- culinary redemption