Israel Welcomes Latest Group of 'Lost' Indian Jews

Some 40 members of Bnei Menashe tribe arrive in Israel, with several hundred more slated to follow this year.

Michael Freund

Israel has welcomed a group of 40 Bnei Menashem the first batch of the latest round of immigrants from the Northeastern Indian state of Manipur, on Thursday.

More than 2,200 members of the Bnei Menashe community, which identifies itself as descending from the lost tribe of Menashe, live in Israel. Shavei Israel, an organization that assists communities seeking to rediscover or renew their link with the Jewish people, has been the community's main advocate.

Michael Freund, the chairman of Shavei Israel, told Haaretz Wednesday that his organization will be bringing over a total of 250 Bnei Menashe over the next month.

"It was an incredibly moving scene at Ben-Gurion Airport because many of these families had been divided for years," he said.

Freund spoke about the arrival of Edna, a young lady who has been engaged to a young man from the community living in Israel since 200 named Gamliel. "We brought him in 2007 and she was supposed to be part of the next group, but then the Olmert government froze the Aliyah, and it was only restarted in 2012."

Her reunion with Gamliel was the first time they had seen each other in seven years, said Freund. "They were both very emotional," he said. "As he stood with her, he said to me he felt like the forefather Jacob who waited so long to marry Rachel."

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar recognized the Bnei Menashe as descendants of one of the lost tribes in 2005, opening the door to immigration of the group.

Still, the group does not receive universal recognition. Hillel Halkin, who wrote Across the Sabbath River: In Search of a Lost Tribe of Israel, concluded that though the group may have had distant Jewish ancestry, none of their recent forebears were Jews.

DNA testing failed to prove any strong connection between the Bnei Menashe and mainstream Jewry, according to a 2011 Jerusalem Post article.

Some 7,000 community members remain in Israel.

Freund also mentioned a grandfather who arrived Thursday who had never met his four Israeli grandchildren as well as two siblings, a brother and a sister, who had not seen their sister who lives in Israel for 21 years.

"So it was just an incredibly powerful experience, and it was a tangible reminder of the miracle that is the State of Israel," he added.

Michael Freund