Michael Freund with Bnei Menashe olim.
(photo credit: Shavei Israel)
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
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.”
Hebrew and completing the conversion process, they will move to homes in Upper
They will have access to job training programs, said Michael
Freund, the founder and chairman of Shavei Israel and a columnist for The
“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
They are “religiously observant and committed Zionists,” Freund
“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
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’
“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
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
But, he said, “It’s not my home. I love Mizoram, but Israel is my