Soldier fights for family's aliya

Hangshing was wounded in Lebanon after battling to be allowed into the country.

avi hangshing (photo credit: )
avi hangshing
(photo credit: )
During a clash with Hizbullah gunmen in Lebanon, St.-Sgt. Avi Hangshing heard a large explosion and hit the dirt for cover. As the two sides traded heavy fire, he gradually lost his hearing and his balance. Released from the army for medical treatment last week, Hangshing said he still walked "like a drunk person." The Lebanon skirmish might have been the most debilitating battle Hangshing has fought, but it was hardly his first. Before Hangshing could even join the IDF, he had to battle to be allowed into the country. "I had to fight to come to Israel. Now I have to fight for the country," said the 22-year-old paratrooper, who was born in India. Hangshing is one of a dozen or so combat soldiers of Bnei Menashe heritage who are currently serving in Lebanon and Gaza. They all have relatives - some have immediate family members - who are still in India and can't come to Israel because the government isn't giving them visas. Some 7,000 Bnei Menashe live in India and claim they are a "Lost Tribe" with Jewish roots. In recent years they have returned to Judaism and are studying for conversion. Some 1,000 have already converted and been allowed to come here, but the government put a stay on converting the others until it has reviewed its policy toward the group. Hangshing has four uncles, plus cousins, who have been waiting to make aliya ever since his immediate family did in 2000. Despite the fact that his relatives observe Halacha, Hangshing said, "As long as they are there, they're still lost." Hangshing described himself as "angry" at their situation and questioned why the government would keep them out of the country despite the contributions being made by his community. Those opposed to their coming claim that they are only coming for economic reasons, at the urging of right-wing advocacy groups who want to populate the territories. Hangshing, like most of the Bnei Menashe in Israel, lives over the Green Line, but the groups' supporters strenuously reject those criticisms. "People are only looking skin-deep," countered Tzvi Kaute, who charged that the government's policy stems from the fact that he and his fellow Bnei Menashe look like Filipinos. "They are judging us on our appearance." Kaute, who works for Shavei Israel, a group pushing for the Bnei Menashe to be allowed to come here, said, "We're part of the people of Israel, part of the ingathering. We don't want to be in exile." And being part of the Jewish people means joining the IDF, he said. "It is our duty as full citizens to serve the country... it's part of the Jewish nation, part of the Jewish family." Hangshing, who hopes to make a career in the army, said that he had considered signing up for the Indian army as a child, because he was attracted to the military experience. "Here I don't experience," he said. "Here it's for my country, for something I care about."