Homecoming for a Lost Tribe of Israel

Fundamentally Freund: The return of the Bnei Menashe to Israel is an inspiring story of Jewish faith, survival and dedication, and it marks the closing of an historical circle after 27 centuries of exile.

young members of Bnei Menashe_370 (photo credit: Courtesy Shavei Israel)
young members of Bnei Menashe_370
(photo credit: Courtesy Shavei Israel)
On October 24, the government passed an historic decision, one that paves the way for the return of a Lost Tribe of Israel to Zion.
Resolution 5180, which received unanimous ministerial approval, will allow 275 members of the Bnei Menashe community of northeastern India to make aliya.
Coming at a time of increasing uncertainty for the Jewish state, this momentous development should infuse us all with some much-needed optimism regarding the future.
After all, the Bnei Menashe are descendants of the tribe of Manasseh, one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel who were exiled by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago. The community, which numbers 7,232 people, resides primarily in the Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur, along the border with Burma and Bangladesh.
Though a great distance separated them geographically from the rest of the Jewish people, their hearts and their aspirations, centered on the goal of return, were never truly remote.
Just as the people of Israel have done for centuries, the Bnei Menashe turned in prayer toward Jerusalem, confident that despite whatever travails they might face, nothing could stand in the way of their dream. And that dream is now coming to life, demonstrating once again the unbreakable power of the Jewish spirit.
The cabinet’s decision was more than five years in the making. In the middle of 2007, the Olmert government inexplicably chose to freeze the aliya of the Bnei Menashe, despite the fact that more than 1,700 had already moved here, thanks primarily to Shavei Israel, the organization that I founded and chair.
For the past several years, I have lobbied and cajoled, prodded and nudged, wandering the halls of the Knesset and making a nuisance of myself in various government ministries.
I could not accept the fact that the government of Israel would shutter the gates in front of these wonderful people. The Bnei Menashe are proud Jews and committed Zionists. They live observant lifestyles, volunteer for combat units in the IDF, and work hard to support themselves and their families. Only 4-5 percent are reliant on social welfare benefits, which is half the national average.
A growing number of the community’s youth are studying at various institutions for higher education, and several have been ordained as rabbis.
The Bnei Menashe are a blessing to Israel and the Jewish people, and there is no good reason to deny them the right to rejoin our nation.
Thankfully, with support from the Foreign Ministry, the Interior Ministry and the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, we were at last able to overturn the previous government’s decision, and the freeze it imposed is a thing of the past.
As a result, people such as Avraham Haokip, his wife and two small sons, will soon be making aliya. They will reunite with Avraham’s parents and brother, who moved here previously and whom they have not seen in more than five years.
Avraham Haokip is a graduate of the University of New Delhi, where he studied information technology and software development.
He works as a computer operator for an Indian television station, but will be leaving behind his promising career to build a new life in Israel.
And then there is David Gangte, a 29-year-old Bnei Menashe entrepreneur who lives is Manipur, India, with his wife, son and daughter. Gangte has built up a thriving import-export business, and managed to teach himself Hebrew to the point where he can deliver a discourse on the weekly Torah portion in the ancient tongue of our people.
Sadly, the government won’t be covering the costs of the impending immigration. But thanks to some generous Jewish leaders in Europe and the United States, as well as some of Israel’s Christian friends, the Bnei Menashe will be coming home.
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has taken it upon itself to cover most of the cost of the first flight of immigrants.
Others, such as Bridges for Peace, are also committed to assisting the Bnei Menashe with getting settled into their new surroundings.
Just as the prophet Isaiah (49:22) foretold, the nations of the world will be carrying our sons and daughters back home to Zion.
The government decision is a breakthrough, and in the coming years we hope to bring the remaining 7,000 Bnei Menashe here as well.
The return of the Bnei Menashe to Israel is an inspiring story of Jewish faith, survival and dedication, and it marks the closing of an historical circle after 27 centuries of exile.
It is a miracle of biblical and historic proportions, and we are witnessing the words of the Prophets come to life before our very eyes.
Interestingly, the week in which the government passed the decision was that of the weekly Torah portion of Lech Lecha, when G-d instructs our father Abraham to leave behind his home and make aliya.
Coincidence? Perhaps.
But I prefer to view it as Divine providence, for G-d’s directive to Abraham is one that echoes down across the generations, calling out to all the people of Israel to make their way home to Zion. And now, at last, after 2,700 years, Manasseh’s children will finally be able to do so.
The writer is chairman of Shavei Israel which assists lost tribes and hidden Jewish communities to return to Israel and the Jewish people.