Bnei Menashe immigrants prepare to head for the airport in Aizawl, the capital of the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram.
(photo credit: SHAVEI ISRAEL)
Thirty members of India’s Bnei Menashe Jewish community were set to land in Israel on Tuesday evening, the first in a group of 102 due to immigrate to Israel this week.
The aliya is being facilitated by the Jerusalem-based non-profit organization Shavei Israel, which works to strengthen ties between the Jewish people and descendants of Jews around the world.
The 102 new immigrants arriving this week all hail from the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram, which borders Myanmar and Bangladesh and is home to the second-largest concentration of Bnei Menashe in India after the state of Manipur.
This week’s aliya marks the first time since January 2014 that Bnei Menashe will be emigrating from Mizoram.
The olim plan to make their homes in Nazareth Illit, following in the footsteps of other members of the Bnei Menashe community.
Among those arriving this week is Mizmor Sharon and her two children. Sharon’s husband, Shomron, died two weeks ago after a long battle with cancer.
“My children and I are heartbroken that their father didn’t live to see his dream of making aliya come true,” said Sharon.
“But we are excited to be making this journey and to honor his legacy by building our new lives in the Jewish homeland. I am sure that he will be with us in spirit with every step that we take on the holy soil of Israel.”
Shavei Israel Founder and Chairman Michael Freund said this week’s arrivals mark the launch of Operation Menashe 2017.
“Over the course of the coming year, with God’s help, we will bring a total of more than 700 Bnei Menashe immigrants to Israel – the largest-ever airlift in a single year,” Freund added.
“After 27 centuries of exile, this lost tribe of Israel is truly coming home. But we will not rest until all the remaining Bnei Menashe still in India are able to make aliya as well.”
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 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.