A group of some 50 members of the Bnei Menashe community of northeastern India immigrated Tuesday to Israel. The group, which consists of about 20 families, arrived yesterday morning on a regular El Al flight from Mumbai, and was met at the airport by family members in an emotional reunion.

They were then transferred to absorption centers in Carmiel and Upper Nazareth, where they will reside in the coming year. The Bnei Menashe community in Israel currently numbers approximately 1,000, arriving from 1996 to 2003 under a special arrangement with the Interior Ministry.

Michael Freund, founder and director of the Shavei Israel foundation that worked to bring the community's members to the country, said yesterday that their arrival is a "visible miracle for the Nation of Israel."

Freund added he hopes the remaining members of the Bnei Menashe community will soon join their relatives in Israel. Roughly 7,000 members of the Bnei Menashe community remain in rural areas of the Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram on the Bangladeshi border.

Tuesday's group is the first in a series that will immigrate as part of an aliyah operation organized by the Jewish Agency, the Ministry for Immigrant Absorption and Shavei Israel. The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews is providing full funding for the $1.5 million operation.

The 216 Bnei Menashe members who will immigrate to Israel in the context of the operation were converted to Judaism in the summer of 2005 by a rabbinical conversion court delegation dispatched by Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar.

The government originally opposed the immigrations, but agreed after Freund threatened to petition the High Court of Justice.

In the coming days, roughly 150 additional members of the community will immigrate. They are currently awaiting flights in a Mumbai hostel rented by the Jewish Agency.

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews had wanted to bring the entire group to Israel in a sensational event, but was pressured to cancel the plan by the Foreign Ministry after it became clear the Indian government was not pleased with the idea.

Gabi Yoram, 14, who immigrated along with his mother and two brothers, aged 16 and 21, was excited about his new life. "I am very happy that we made it to Israel, although I am pained by the fact that my father, who passed away a few years ago, could not be with us today," he said in proficient Hebrew. "I hope we will be able to overcome all the problems."

Yoram's mother sounded far more worried, saying her aliyah was accompanied by many concerns about the future and her family's absorption.

Roughly 95 of the 216 Bnei Menashe members will reside in the absorption center in Carmiel.

"Carmiel has been a city that absorbs immigrants since its founding, and began absorbing immigrants in 1964," said Carmiel Mayor Adi Eldar. "We welcome the new immigrants and will do all we can to help their absorption be positive and quick."