Thousands of kilometers to the east, in the furthest reaches of northeastern
India, a long-lost community continues to nourish its age-old dream of returning
to its ancient homeland, the land of Israel.
The Bnei Menashe, or “sons
of Manasseh,” are descendants of one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel, which were
exiled by the Assyrian empire more than 27 centuries ago. The community, which
numbers 7,232 people, resides primarily in the Indian states of Mizoram and
Manipur, along the border with Burma and Bangladesh.
of wandering, the Bnei Menashe never forgot who they were, where they had come
from, or where they aspired to return.
Three times a day, every day, they
turn in silent prayer toward Jerusalem, pleading with the Creator to put an end
to their long exile and bring them home to Zion.
That dream is now
poised, at last, to become a reality.
This past Monday, an extraordinary
meeting of the Ministerial Committee on Immigration and Absorption took place in
the Prime Minister’s Office. At the top of the agenda was the issue of the Bnei
AS CHAIRMAN of Shavei Israel, an organization that has been
assisting the community for over a decade, I had lobbied intensively for much of
the past year for the committee to address the issue.
the assembled ministers and bureaucrats, I spoke of the 1,700 Bnei Menashe who
have already made aliya, and of the success they have had in integrating into
Approximately 96 percent of Bnei Menashe immigrants are
employed, supporting themselves and their families and contributing to the state
and its economy. A mere 4% – less than half the national average – are reliant
on social welfare to make ends meet.
Nearly all young Bnei Menashe men
are drafted into the army, with a majority serving in combat units. Some 50 Bnei
Menashe are currently in uniform, and recently the first Bnei Menashe officer
I pointed out that a growing number of Bnei Menashe
youth are pursuing higher education at Israeli colleges and universities in
fields ranging from computer science to social work, and that several have also
received rabbinical ordination after years of study in yeshiva.
assured, I told the ministers, the Bnei Menashe are our lost brethren. In March
2005, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar recognized them as Zera Yisrael, or the
“seed of Israel,” and said they should be brought to the Jewish state.
also ruled that because they were cut off from their people for millennia, the
Bnei Menashe are required to undergo conversion to remove any doubt about their
personal status. All those who have made aliya have already gone through this
Put simply, I said, the Bnei Menashe are a blessing to the
Jewish people and to the State of Israel, and they strengthen us no less than we
Nonetheless, the government of Ehud Olmert inexplicably froze
their aliya in 2007, dividing families and stifling the flow of this talented
and highly motivated immigration.
So I turned to the members of the
committee and made a simple yet forceful plea: It is time for Israel to let the
remaining Bnei Menashe come home.
And then a miracle took place. After
deliberating the matter, the ministerial committee, headed by Foreign Minister
Avigdor Lieberman, formally decided to draft a government resolution and bring
it to the cabinet for approval no later than the end of July.
resolution will permit all the remaining Bnei Menashe in India to make aliya,
and will finally bring an end to their years of waiting and
Both the foreign minister and Absorption Minister Sofa
Landver said they were behind the measure.
This means we are just one
month away from an historic turning point, one that will restore 7,232 precious
souls to the Jewish people.
But there are obstacles that may still stand
in the way.
The Treasury is likely to object, not wanting to spend a
shekel more than it deems necessary. And then there are the naysayers and
post-Zionists who have lost sight of Israel’s mission to serve as the homeland
for all Jews.
We cannot allow them to prevail.
There is simply no
good reason for this aliya to be stymied. The Bnei Menashe are part of the
extended Jewish family. They are committed Zionists who observe the Torah and
its commandments, and who are reaching out across the centuries to reconnect
with our people. We need to extend a welcoming hand back, and bring them to
I urge all people of faith and goodwill, Jew and Christian
alike, to pray for this undertaking to succeed. Write the premier, contact MKs,
and tell them in no uncertain terms: Bring the lost tribe of Bnei Menashe home
now! This past Monday, as I listened to the committee approve its decision, I
truly felt as if I was standing on the banks of the Red Sea, watching the waters
begin to part.
Soon enough, I am sure, the Bnei Menashe will cross the
sea, reuniting with the Land and people of Israel after a remarkable
Just as the prophets foretold, Manasseh’s children are at last
coming back. And all one can say is: Thank God.
The writer serves as
chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), a Jerusalem-based organization that
assists the Bnei Menashe and other lost Jewish communities in returning to the