Israel welcomed its 2,000th member of the Bnei Menashe community on Thursday, when a flight carrying 53 of the tribe’s members from Manipur, India, touched down at Ben-Gurion Airport.
The Bnei Menashe claim descent from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, sent into exile for more than 27 centuries.
The community has always observed Shabbat and kept kosher.
Today the Bnei Menashe numbers around 7,000 and resides in India’s northeastern border states of Manipur and Mizoram.
Prior to the current aliya, there were 1,725 Bnei Menashe in Israel. Most of the community resides in Acre and Migdal Ha’emek.
“I’m so very happy right now,” said 18-year-old Mirna Singsit, who was presented with a certificate acknowledging her as the 2,000th Bnei Menashe oleh.
“Not only has this been my dream since I was born, but it has been my peoples’ dream for thousands of years.”
Singsit came to Israel with her parents and three brothers, but left behind a grandparent, four uncles and two aunts. She hopes to continue her education in Israel, studying for her bachelors degree in political science.
Singsit wants to live in Jerusalem, “the Holiest place on earth,” she said.
After a five year hiatus, the Bnei Menashe aliya program was restarted following a unanimous decision by the Israeli cabinet last October, a move which was championed by Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, who pushed for its approval.
The aliya program was frozen in 2007 by the Olmert government after members of the cabinet, in particular interior minister Meir Sheetrit, opposed it.
Over the past month, immigrants arrived on five flights facilitated by Shavei Israel, a nonprofit organization aimed at strengthening ties with Jewish descendants around the world.
“This is an emotional day for all of us,” said Shavei Israel chairman Michael Freund.
“But we will not rest until all the remaining Bnei Menashe still in India are able to make aliya as well.”
Danielle Ziri contributed to this report.