Members of Indian ‘lost Jewish tribe’ visit Auschwitz

Bnei Menashe member says visit strengthened his Jewish identity.

November 29, 2016 14:32
2 minute read.
Bnei Menashe

Members of India's lost Jewish tribe visit Auschwitz for first time. (photo credit: COURTESY OF SHAVEI ISRAEL)

A group of young olim from the northeastern Indian Bnei Menashe Jewish community – which claims descent from one of Israel’s lost tribes – visited Auschwitz last week as part of an Israeli high school Holocaust education trip.

Five Bnei Menashe members joined fellow Israeli 12th-graders from the Abir Yaakov Yeshiva High School in the northern Israeli town of Nahariya, on an annual educational trip to Poland taken by Israeli high school students.

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Yaniv Hoinge, who made aliya with his parents from Manipur, India, in 2012, remarked that the visit strengthened his connection to Judaism. “It actually gives me a stronger feeling of love toward Israel,” Hoinge added, noting that, “The Holocaust makes Israel even more important to the Jewish people.”

The Hoinge family was brought to Israel by the non-profit organization Shavei Israel, which strives to strengthen ties among the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and the descendants of Jews around the world. The NGO also helped bring the other four Indian teens and their families, believing that Holocaust education is a vital component of their integration into their new country.

“During the Holocaust, the Germans and their collaborators murdered millions of Jews at Auschwitz, including members of my family,” said Shavei Israel founder and chairman Michael Freund. “As part of our efforts to help the Bnei Menashe return to the Jewish people after being cut off for 27 centuries, we view it as essential to instill them with a better understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust and its central place in Jewish history.”

The other Bnei Menashe who visited Auschwitz last week included Tzion Baite and David Haokip, who both made aliya from Manipur with their families in 2014, and Obed and Simeon Lhouvum, brothers who made aliya from Gamgiphai, a village in Manipur, in 2012.

“The struggle for Jewish survival is something that resonates strongly with the Bnei Menashe, for they faced enormous adversity over the centuries and still managed to cling to the faith of their ancestors,” Freund remarked. “That is what makes this visit of Bnei Menashe youth to Auschwitz so poignant and meaningful, because it underlines the power of Jewish destiny and the indestructible spirit of the Jewish people.”

The claim of the Bnei Menashe as descendants of the tribe of Manasseh, exiled from the Land of Israel more than 2,700 years ago by the Assyrian empire, has stirred controversy in Israel over the years.

The Chief Rabbinate initially did not consider the Bnei Menashe to be Jewish, and their immigration was halted at the beginning of the 21st century amid contention. But in 2005, then-Sephardi chief rabbi Shlomo Amar formally recognized the Bnei Menashe as descendants of one of the Ten Lost Tribes, though still requiring them to convert to Judaism.

In 2012, the government lifted the freeze on aliya from the community and so far some 3,000 Bnei Menashe have made aliya with the assistance of Shavei Israel. According to the organization, another 7,000 Bnei Menashe remain in India, and Freund hopes to eventually bring them all to Israel.

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