The Interior Ministry has granted permission to the Shavei Israel organization to bring a group of some 150 Bnei Menashe from northeastern India on aliya, a government source told The Jerusalem Post this week.
The Bnei Menashe claim descent from a lost tribe of Israel and some 7,200 of them reside primarily in the Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur, which border Burma and Bangladesh.
While there has been no decision to allow the remaining 7,200 Bnei Menashe to make aliya, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit has allowed the 150 in on humanitarian grounds, as members of this group were previously promised their aliya would be approved, and thus many of them had sold their homes and most of their possessions.
Over the past decade, some 1,500 members of the community have immigrated to Israel thanks to Shavei Israel, which assists "lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish people.
Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund, who is also a Jerusalem Post columnist, confirmed that he had received official notification from the government.
"We have been working on this for quite some time, and I am grateful to the Prime Minister's Office and the Interior Ministry for approving our request. With God's help, we will shortly bring the immigrants to Israel," Freund said. He added that the group would most likely come in January and settle in the Galilee, "where the landscape and pastoral setting resemble the land of their birth, making it an ideal place for the Bnei Menashe to start their new lives in the Jewish state."
In recent years, the bulk of the Bnei Menashe new immigrants have settled in Ma'alot, Karmiel and Afula in the North. Others can be found in Jerusalem, Kiryat Arba and Nitzan.
Because the new arrivals will be coming on special tourist visas, and not under the Law of Return, the entire cost of the operation will be borne by Shavei Israel.
The immigrants will subsequently undergo formal conversion by the Chief Rabbinate, after which they will receive Israeli citizenship.
In March 2005, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar recognized the Bnei Menashe as "descendants of Israel" and agreed to facilitate their return.
In August, the Israeli media reported that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had decided to bring the entire Bnei Menashe community to Israel, but the cabinet has yet to formally discuss the issue. Sheetrit is thought to be opposed to the idea of approving the aliya of the 7,200.
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