Gov’t move opens way to more Bnei Menashe aliya

First group of tribal group from India, Burma to make aliya in five years; another 7,000 left in India wish to come to Israel.

Bnei Menashe 311 (photo credit: Gil Cohen Magen/Reuters)
Bnei Menashe 311
(photo credit: Gil Cohen Magen/Reuters)
The government recently passed a resolution to resume immigration of the Bnei Menashe, a tribal group from India and Burma who descend from the tribe of Menashe, one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.
The Bnei Menashe’s Jewish roots had been recognized in 2005 by Rabbi Shlomo Amar who had ruled that they must, however, undergo conversion to be recognized as full Jews.
Their aliya has since then been taken under the wing of the Shavei Israel organization, which aims at “helping descendants of Jews reconnect with the people and State of Israel” and facilitate their aliya.
In 2007, after the organization had brought 230 people from the Bnei Menashe community, to Israel, their aliya was frozen by the Olmert government after members of the cabinet, in particular then interior minister, MK Meir Sheetrit, had opposed it.
“Apparently, there are those in government who think that if they come to Israel and convert to Judaism, maybe they will vote in future elections,” Sheetrit told Army Radio on Tuesday.
Michael Freund, chairman and founder of Shavei Israel, said he had been lobbying the Netanyahu government on the issue for a few years, as he had in the past worked as an adviser to the prime minister.
Freund is grateful for the resolution, which was adopted unanimously by the cabinet and is to allow Shavei Israel to fly a first group of 275 Bnei Menashe to the country.
“This will be the first group we are bringing in five years,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
Shavei Israel is expected to cover the cost of the initiative, which includes airfare and part of the cost of the group’s initial stay in the country. The organization is also planning on opening a private absorption center where the olim will spend their first few months in Israel.
During that time, they will have to undergo official conversion supervised by the rabbinical authorities, in addition to completing a variety of bureaucratic processes – following which they can be granted Israeli citizenship and receive the status of olim. They are then expected to move north to places such as Acre and Kiryat Malachi.
Freund explained that his organization does not receive government funding but relies on private donations from American and European Jewish philanthropists and also from the International Christian Embassy.
“The Bnei Menashe are a blessing to Israel and the Jewish people,” Freund told the Post, “They work hard, support themselves and their families, serve in the IDF and raise beautiful Jewish children.”
He added that the “return” of the Bnei Menashe to Israel is a “miracle of biblical and historic proportions.”
The first group of 275 individuals is expected to arrive to Israel next month. Shavei Israel’s centers in India are preparing them for the move.
This includes teaching them Hebrew and familiarizing them with Jewish traditions and life in the state.
Over the past 15 years, Shavei Israel has brought about 1,700 Bnei Menashe home, but according to the organization, another 7,000 of them are left in India and wish to make aliya.