This week, Israel welcomed 162 members of a Jewish community from India who regard themselves as one of the lost Israelite tribes.

The new immigrants from the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram will be joining 1700 members of their community already living in the Jewish State. The Bnei Menashe, as this Jewish community from India is called, traces its ancestry to Menasseh, the son of the biblical Prophet Joseph.

In 2005, one of Israel’s chief rabbis formally recognized the Bnei Menashe as the lost descendants of israelites following years of examining their claims and other research. The rabbinical ruling paved the way for emigration of the Bnei Menashe to Israel.

The initiative is being supported by Shavei Israel, a nonprofit that aims to bring lost Jews to the Jewish state. Apart for helping the newly arrived immigrants to integrate into the Israeli society, the organisation also ministers to the spiritual needs of 7,200 Bnei Menashe that are still in India. The nonprofit has set up two main centers for the community in India where courses on Hebrew language, Jewish history, religion and culture are offered.

On Friday, an Arab car-ramming terrorist attack seriously injured a 35 year-old member of the Bnei Menashe community. The father of five is undergoing brain surgery, Israeli media reported.

“In the wake of the terror attack, I call upon the Israeli government to adopt a fitting Zionist response and to immediately approve the aliyah (immigration to Israel) of the 7,000 remaining Bnei Menashe in India,” said Michael Freund, the founder of Shavei Israel.

Israeli news website Times of Israel reported the arrival of Bnei Menashe along with a group of Ethiopian Jews this week:

Members of two “lost tribes” — 162 people from India’s Bnei Menashe and 69 from Ethiopia — arrived in Israel Thursday to reunite with family members and make new lives in the country.

Some 1,700 Bnei Menashe have settled in Israel over the past 15 years, with a further 7,000 waiting to immigrate.

The Bnei Menashe are Indians who claim descent from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.

They say their ancestors were sent into exile by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago, after which they wandered through Central Asia and the Far East for centuries before settling in what is now northeastern India, along the border with Burma and Bangladesh.

The Jewish presence in Indian subcontinent goes back to at least 2,000 year. The Cochin Jews are believed to be the first to land on the Indian shores, arriving in the country following the destruction of the second temple. Several other waves of Jewish immigration followed, most recent being the Baghdadi Jews from the Middle East that came in the 18th and 19th century.

Israel is home to around 85,000-100,000 Jews of Indian origin, who are well integrated into the society: serving in the military and excelling in education, commerce and sports. In 2011, the first Bnei-Menashe Jew became an IDF Officer.

In 2015, India’s outgoing Ambassador, Jaideep Sarkar, described Israeli Jews of Indian origin “as proud and loyal citizens [who] have very warm feelings in their heart towards India, an affinity and love for a country from which they came and where their ancestors carrying on their religious traditions for many centuries.” India is keen to foster these historic and cultural links.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the Indian community this summer drew thousands to the Tel Aviv Convention Center. The warmth with which the Indian leader was welcomed by the Israeli Jews of Indian origin is a testament to the special bond between India and the Jewish State. The return of the Bnei Menashe after 27 centuries of exile adds a new thread to this rich India-Israel tapestry.

[Cover image via YouTube]


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