Meet Reuven

More than other Bnei Menashe I've met, Reuven talks as if he's really been brainwashed, or is full of positive fervor, depending on your point of view. When I ask him why he wants to make aliya, he says it's because of his faith, and because the Torah says all the lost tribes of Israel must go back home. Reuven is a math and science teacher at the local school in Kolasib in the Mizoram province, and when I ask him if he wants to carry on with this profession in Israel, he answers that he will take any job, just as long as he can make aliya, but if he could choose his next career, it would be to become a rabbi. His second choice is to become a "commando" in the IDF. He's 31, so it will be difficult, but not impossible to get into an elite fighting unit, I tell him. "I want to fight for Israel. I want to die for Israel," he says, loudly, showing a sudden burst of emotion. Sensing some unease in the room, Eyal Be'eri, our guide, steps over to Reuven, takes him by the hand and says soothingly, "You must live for Israel. Israel is the land of life." Reuven's words make me think: Why does he want to be either a rabbi or a fighter? Why not a teacher, doctor, businessman, motor mechanic or carpenter? What kind of process has he been undergoing that the two things he has in the forefront of his mind are God and war? We head up to the synagogue opposite Reuven's home. It's a small shul, but very well put together and cozy. The view from its porch of Tarfil Mountain across the valleys is spectacular, and I can see why this place was chosen to build a synagogue - it's very peaceful and invites reflection. Next to the synagogue, about 15 meters away, a large pig is being fed in its pen. The pig is squealing very loudly, and I notice other similar squeals coming from the road. The village is full of pig pens, and their unmistakable squeals pierce this otherwise quiet village. The villagers breed them for food (none of the Bnei Menashe in Kolasib breed pigs). Our group prays Minha at the synagogue on top of the mountain and the sounds of prayer mix with the squeals of the pigs. The prayer ends with "Hatikva," and at this altitude, in this remote lovely place, it is an awesome experience to hear it sung by 20 Israelis, and look over into endless mountains. At the end of every ceremony we've attended, we always sing the Bnei Menashe and Israeli anthems, and the Bnei Menashe never sing the Indian national anthem. Visiting the remote synagogues of the Bnei Menashe, our group is strengthened every time; it reaffirms our faith in the story of the Ten Lost Tribes - it makes it visceral. Our group is almost always led in prayer by a Bnei Menashe. As we drive away from Reuven's home, up the road a full-sized pig is being roasted on a spit on the front porch of a home. A hole has been cut into its belly, and next to the spit a woman is cleaning out the pig's blood-covered intestines using a red bucket. The Mizo (people of Mizoram) are 90 percent Baptist Christian. How long can the Bnei Menashe stay Jewish without moving to Israel or organizing into cohesive, sustainable communities here?