Associated Press/Nasser Ishtayeh - In this Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 photo, Ukrainian Alla Evdokimova, 26, who now goes by name Alaa Altif, displays her wedding album at her home at Mount Gerizim, near the West …more
MOUNT GERIZIM, West Bank (AP) — The Samaritans, a rapidly dwindling sect dating to biblical times, have opened their insular community to brides imported from eastern Europe in a desperate quest to preserve their ancient culture.
Five young women from Russia and Ukraine have moved to this hilltop village in recent years to marry local men, breathing new life into the community that has been plagued by genetic diseases caused by generations of intermarriage.
Husni Cohen, a 69-year-old village elder, said the marriages are not ideal, since there is always a risk that the newcomers may decide to leave. But in a community whose population has fallen to roughly 360 people, he saw little choice.
"If this is the only solution to our problem, we must take this road. We Samaritans don't have enough women to marry, so I can't tell our young men not to marry and not to start a family," he said. He warned, however, that if the families don't adhere to the Samaritan religion and traditions, "then our future is in danger."
For Alla Evdokimova, so far, so good. She left Ukraine, married and joined the community two years ago. "I came here and found a big family," said Evdokimova, 26.
The Samaritans have lived in the Holy Land for thousands of years. They are probably best known for the parable of the Good Samaritan in the New Testament Book of Luke. Samaritans believe themselves to be the remnants of Israelites exiled by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. They practice a religion closely linked to Judaism and venerate a version of the Old Testament, but they are not Jews.
In the fourth and fifth centuries, the Samaritan population is thought to have topped 1.5 million, but religious persecution and economic hardship had nearly erased it by the early 20th century. Today, there are 750 Samaritans — split between communities in the Israeli city of Holon, near Tel Aviv, and near the West Bank city of Nablus on Mount Gerizim, the group's holiest place and site of its yearly Passover sacrifice. The Samaritans, who hold both Israeli and Palestinian residency rights, try to steer clear of politics.