India's Bnei Menashe Jews open first synagogue in Israel

The first-ever house of prayer in Israel for Bnei Menashe immigrants from India was inaugrated last Saturday and hosted their first Shabbat service.

 The Bnai Menashe community's newest Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue, the first in the Bnai Menashe community. (photo credit: COURTESY SHAVEI ISRAELI)
The Bnai Menashe community's newest Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue, the first in the Bnai Menashe community.
(photo credit: COURTESY SHAVEI ISRAELI)

The Bnei Menashe Jewish community, which hails from India and claims descent from one of the Lost Tribes of Israel, inaugurated their first synagogue in Israel on Saturday.

Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue, the first-ever house of prayer in Israel for Bnei Menashe immigrants from India, is located in Nof Hagalil and hosted 150 worshippers – most of them from the Bnei Menashe community – on their first Shabbat.

The Shavei Israel organization, which has promoted the aliyah of Bnei Menashe Jews to Israel for two decades, was instrumental in the establishment of the new synagogue. Shavei Israel also announced plans to build a second synagogue for olim from Manipur, India, as the new Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue primarily services Bnei Menashe Jews from Mizoram.

“We are grateful to Mayor Ronen Plot and the city’s residents for their warm welcome of Bnei Menashe immigrants. I pray that the synagogue, named after Eliyahu Hanavi – the prophet Elijah who, according to Jewish tradition, will portend Israel’s redemption  – will play an important role in the integration of the Bnei Menashe into Israeli society,” said Michael Freund, Shavei Israel’s chairman and founder.

“We are grateful to Mayor Ronen Plot and the city’s residents for their warm welcome of Bnei Menashe immigrants. I pray that the synagogue, named after Eliyahu Hanavi – the prophet Elijah who, according to Jewish tradition, will portend Israel’s redemption  – will play an important role in the integration of the Bnei Menashe into Israeli society.”

Michael Freund

Who are the Bnei Menashe?

Members of India’s Bnei Menashe Jewish community (credit: LAURA BEN-DAVID/SHAVEI ISRAEL)Members of India’s Bnei Menashe Jewish community (credit: LAURA BEN-DAVID/SHAVEI ISRAEL)

The Bnei Menashe claim to be descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, who were sent into exile by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago. Their ancestors wandered through Central Asia and the Far East for centuries, before settling in what is now northeastern India, along the borders of Burma and Bangladesh. 

Throughout their sojourn in exile, the Bnei Menashe continued to practice Judaism just as their ancestors did, including observing the Sabbath, keeping kosher, celebrating the festivals and upholding other Jewish traditions. Bnei Menashe Jews continued to practice their traditions while dreaming of someday returning to the land of their ancestors.

“The opening of the first synagogue in Israel for the Bnei Menashe is a historic and exciting event,” Freund declared. “Just like any other Jewish community, the Bnei Menashe have their own unique customs, traditions and hymns, which are worthy of preservation.” 

“We are delighted that the Bnei Menashe immigrants will now have a synagogue of their own in which to keep these traditions alive,” Freund concluded.