Something to cheer about [pg. 13]

Some good news: 200 Jews from a lost tribe of Israel will soon be coming home.

The news, it seems, gives us no rest. With rockets raining down on the north, terrorists holding Israeli soldiers captive, and suicide bombers being apprehended in Jerusalem, it is hard to resist the desire to just crawl under the bed and hope for the best. Even as our nation comes under attack, voices in the international community have begun calling on Israel to show "restraint," as though the very idea of the Jewish state defending itself is somehow unacceptable. Yet even as the dark clouds of war fill the sky, and the future appears increasingly bleak, we can not and must not yield to despair. Such thinking is neither productive nor beneficial, because the last thing the Jewish people need right now is to lose heart. That, after all, is precisely what our enemies would like to see happen. As bad as things might be, and they most certainly are, the fact of the matter is that Israel still has a lot for going for it. And that is something that we do not always appreciate as much, or as often, as we should. So at the risk of sounding somewhat na ve, here is a bit of good news that should make us all cheer: 200 Jews from a lost tribe of Israel will soon be coming home. That's right. There are still plenty of good and decent people out there who want to join us and make aliya, fulfilling the prophetic vision and Zionist mission upon which this country is based. Two weeks ago, I wrote a column in this space entitled "Let My People Come," describing the Absorption Ministry's baffling decision to block the immigration of 218 Bnei Menashe from northeastern India, even though all had undergone formal conversion to Judaism by Israel's own Chief Rabbinate. In the wake of that article, and a meeting I had on the subject at the Prime Minister's Office, I was subsequently informed that the remaining bureaucratic obstacles were removed, and this blessed aliya can go forward at last. This is an historical event - after nearly 2,700 years of exile, the Bnei Menashe are returning to their ancestral homeland, the Land of Israel, as Jews in every respect, with their heads held high and their dreams intact. It is a triumph of the Jewish spirit, and a testament to the power of Jewish identity, which can endure even the most difficult of challenges. After all, the Bnei Menashe succeeded in preserving their Jewish heritage across the centuries. The 7,000-strong community, which resides primarily in the northeastern Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur, observes the Sabbath, practices circumcision on the eighth day, keeps the laws of Kashrut and meticulously upholds the rules of family purity. They have built dozens of synagogues across India's northeast, and three times a day they turn fervently in prayer, with their eyes raised toward Jerusalem. Indeed, after studying the community and its origins, Israel's Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar was so impressed that in March 2005, he formally recognized the Bnei Menashe as "descendants of the Jewish people," and agreed to facilitate their return. In September 2005, he even dispatched a top-level rabbinical court to India, which carried out the conversion of 218 members of the community, all of whom wish to make aliya. Yet for the past nine months, their immigration was delayed, as the wheels of bureaucracy turned ever so slowly, eventually grinding to a halt at the doors of the Absorption Ministry, which refused to countenance their arrival. I WAS, to say the least, disheartened and dismayed. As Chairman of Shavei Israel, an organization that assists the Bnei Menashe, I could not fathom why the government would do such a thing. There are already nearly 1,000 Bnei Menashe living in Israel, and they have shown themselves to be valuable and productive members of society. They serve in the army, support their families, and have lots of adorable Jewish children. Why would anyone possibly want to stop them from coming? And so I turned to the Prime Minister's Office, writing a letter to Ehud Olmert to plead their case. To my pleasant surprise, I received a prompt reply, and the next thing I knew, I was sitting with two of his advisers, who not only listened politely to my appeal, but acted on it, too. A few days later, I was told, Olmert himself got involved after reading my column in the Jerusalem Post and discussing the matter with his aides. Thanks to his judicious intervention, the problem was quickly resolved, paving the way for the 218 Bnei Menashe Jews to move here very soon. This news should serve as a great source of joy, not only for the prospective immigrants themselves, but for all of us too. It is a timely reminder that even with all of the crises brewing around us, the historical saga of our people's return continues to unfold. And the aliya of the Bnei Menashe from the far reaches of India is but further proof that the Pintele Yid (Yiddish for the spark of Jewishness) inside every Jewish soul can never, ever be extinguished. Sure, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned, leading some to suggest that our new national motto should be "Am Yisrael Cry." But don't let the news get you down more than necessary, because we still have plenty to be grateful for. After all, despite our enemies' best efforts, we are still here, able to declare: "Am Yisrael Chai", the nation of Israel lives. And with God's help, Manasseh's long-lost children are at last coming home. The writer served as an aide to former premier Binyamin Netanyahu. He is the founder of Shavei Israel which assists "lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish people.