162 members of India’s Bnei Menashe Jewish community immigrated to Israel this week, some of them reuniting with family members after years of separation.
The aliya was facilitated by Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based non-profit organization, which works to reconnect descendants of Jews around the world with their people and the State of Israel.
The last group to arrive this week landed at Ben-Gurion Airport on Thursday morning to a special welcoming ceremony, greeted by Interior Minister Arye Deri, Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen and Shavei Israel Founder and Chairman Michael Freund.
Some of the new immigrants hadn’t seen members of their families for over 10 years, as only portions of the family had been approved for aliya by the government and Chief Rabbinate.
Community organizer Tzvi Khaute was among them. He made aliya with his wife and son 18 years ago, but his parents were only able to join them this week, as their aliya hadn’t previously been approved.
His wife gave birth to another four children during that time whom his parents now met for the first time.
Khaute works as a security guard at the Finance Ministry and appealed to Cohen for help to bring the rest of his family and other community members to Israel.
“Words are not enough to express my emotions,” Khaute told The Jerusalem Post
on Thursday about the reunion with his parents. “I am so happy and excited that we realized the dream of our forefathers.”
Khaute lives in Kiryat Arba, a settlement on the outskirts of Hebron. His parents plan to join him there after initially residing at an absorption center in northern Israel.
The claim of the Bnei Menashe to be descendants of the tribe of Menashe, 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 as soon as they arrive in Israel.
In 2012, the government lifted a 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.
“Many have been waiting to come for decades and it’s time to bring their suffering to an end and I call on the government of Israel to take immediate steps to enable the remaining 7,000 to make aliya as soon as possible... so we can put an end to painful situations where families are divided,” Freund told the Post
“There’s simply no reason why families should be divided for so many years,” he added, lamenting that at the current pace that the government is approving the immigrants, it will take another decade to bring the remainder.
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