The prophet Isaiah foretold, ‘And He shall set up an ensign for the nations and He shall assemble the outcasts of Israel and gather together the dispersed of Judah from all the four corners of the earth.‘
‘LOST TRIBE’ OF ISRAEL RETURNING HOME
‘The words of Isaiah are coming to life before our eyes’
After a five-year immigration halt, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has given permission to a community of Indian citizens who believe they are one of the “lost tribes” of Israel to move to the Jewish state.
“We had a major breakthrough, and thank God, the Aliya [immigration to Israel] is set to resume this summer, and we hope and pray to bring the first batch of 50 families, or about 250-300 Bnei Menashe immigrants, to Israel by the end of August,” said Michael Freund, chairman of Shavei Israel, which is behind the initiative.
Shavei, based in Jerusalem, hopes to bring to the Jewish state the remaining 7,000 Indian citizens who believe they are the Bnei Menashe, the descendants of Manasseh, one of biblical patriarch Joseph’s two sons and a grandson of Jacob.
Already Freund’s group helped facilitate the immigration of over 1,700 Bnei Menashe, with successive Israeli governments allowing and then halting the process. In 2007, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s administration put the kibosh on the process, which is now being reopened.
Shavei plans to bring 50 Bnei Menashe families to Israel this summer with hopes of transplanting the remaining tribe members from India to Israel in the next few years.
The original batches of Bnei Menashe to arrive here came as tourists in an agreement with Israel’s Interior Ministry. Once in Israel, the Bnei Menashe converted officially to Judaism and became citizens.
But diplomatic wrangling halted the immigration process in 2003, with officials from some Israeli ministries refusing to grant the rest of the group still in India permission to travel here.
To smooth the process, Freund at the time enlisted the help of Israel’s chief rabbinate, who flew to India in 2005 to convert members of the Bnei Menashe, a process stopped last year by India.
Freund then coordinated with the Israeli government the arrival of batches of a few hundred Bnei Menashe as tourists who would later convert, but that process was halted in July 2007.
Tribe members live in the two Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur, to which they say they were exiled from Israel more than 2,700 years ago by the Assyrian empire.
According to Bnei Menashe oral tradition, the tribe was exiled from Israel and pushed to the east, eventually settling in the border regions of China and India, where most remain today. Most kept customs similar to Jewish tradition, including observing Shabbat, keeping the laws of Kosher, practicing circumcision on the eighth day of a baby boy’s life and observing laws of family purity.
In the 1950s, several thousand Bnei Menashe say they set out on foot to Israel but were quickly halted by Indian authorities. Undeterred, many began practicing Orthodox Judaism and pledged to make it to Israel. They now attend community centers in India established by Shavei Israel to teach the Bnei Menashe Jewish tradition and modern Hebrew.
Freund sees the Bnei Menashe immigration as biblical, quoting from Isaiah 43:5, which states, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west.”
“Those words,” Freund says, “are coming to life before our eyes.”
“I think this is a very historic project,” he added. “It is the closing of an historical circle. It is the return of a lost tribe of Israel after 27 centuries of exile, and it is a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.”
Bnei Menashe aliya to resume this summer
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
Some 50 families, numbering around 250 people, expected to come before end of August with Interior Ministry approval.
Photo: Courtesy Shavei Israel
For the first time in five years, a large group of Bnei Menashe immigrants from northeastern India is slated to make aliya this summer.
The Shavei Israel organization, which assists descendants of Jews to reconnect with their roots, is slated to bring the Bnei Menashe, who claim descent from the tribe of Menashe, one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.
Some 50 families, numbering upward of 250 people, are expected to come before the end of August with the approval of the Interior Ministry, to be followed by another group later in the year. The families will be settled in the Galilee in coordination with the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption.
“The resumption of the Bnei Menashe aliya is long overdue,” said Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund, who is also a Jerusalem Post columnist. “The last time we were able to bring a group was in 2007,” he said.
More than 1,700 Bnei Menashe moved to Israel over the last decade, but former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government halted their immigration, even though the rabbinate had hitherto recognized the community as “descendants of Israel.”
Freund, who previously served as an aide to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, launched an intensive lobbying campaign which resulted in the Ministerial Committee on Immigration and Absorption’s decision last June to bring the remaining 7,232 Bnei Menashe to the Jewish state. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman headed the committee.
Shavei Israel is expected to cover the cost of transporting the immigrants to Israel as well as the initial period after their arrival, while the government will pay for their absorption.
“The return of this lost tribe to Zion more than 2,700 years after their ancestors were exiled by the Assyrian empire is nothing less than a miracle,” Freund said.