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Photo by: Shavei Israel
Group of 38 Bnei Menashe arrives in Israel
By HENRY ROME AND SAM SOKOL
27/12/2013
New olim to spend several months in an absorption, and will then move to homes in Upper Nazareth after learning Hebrew.
 
A total of 38 Indian citizens from the Bnei Menashe community made aliya Thursday, the first cohort to arrive since the Knesset approved another wave of immigration for the group.

The immigrants are to spend the next several months in a private absorption center run by the Shavei Israel organization, which arranged and funded their aliya. All of the immigrants are from the outlying Indian state of Mizoram, and 18 of them are 18-years-old or younger.

Among them is Elyashiv Khupchawng, 28, who arrived with his mother, wife and son.

“I don’t know how to express my gratitude,” he said shortly after landing in Tel Aviv. “I am so excited.”

After studying Hebrew and completing the conversion process, they will move to homes in Upper Nazareth.

They will have access to job training programs, said Michael Freund, the founder and chairman of Shavei Israel and a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

“We want to see them succeed,” he said. “We want to provide them with the support and the tools they need in order to fully integrate into Israeli society.”

There are roughly 2,000 Bnei Menashe members already in Israel. The group claims to be descendant from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, meaning they have lived in exile for 2,700 years.

They are “religiously observant and committed Zionists,” Freund said.

“It’s a remarkable story, how they managed to cling to their Jewish identity through the generations,” he said.

Their return to Israel, he added, “is a miracle of historic proportions.”

But the Chief Rabbinate does not consider the Bnei Menashe to be Jewish, and their immigration was halted a decade ago amid controversy.

Since then, immigration has been sporadic, but the Knesset in October approved the immigration of 899 Bnei Menashe.

Thursday’s arrival was a “moving reminder of how each and every oleh [“Jewish immigrant to Israel”] has their own very personal story of hoping and longing for Zion,” said David Parsons, media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, which helped fund the immigrants’ travel.

“There were many emotions and tears as these latest Bnei Menashe arrivals reunited with family, people and homeland, and it was wonderful to witness,” he said in a statement.

There are 7,000 remaining Bnei Menashe in India, and Freund said he hopes to eventually bring them all to Israel.

Among that group are Khupchawng’s relatives, some of whom are slated to arrive in Israel next month.

Khupchawng acknowledged that he will miss his hometown, Mizoram, as it is a “beautiful and peaceful land.”

But, he said, “It’s not my home. I love Mizoram, but Israel is my home.”
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