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This decision clears the way for the arrival here of some of the remaining 7,200 members of the Bnei Menashe in India, who believe they are the descendants of Manasseh, one of the biblical patriarch Joseph’s two sons and a grandson of Jacob.
“With so much economic and political turmoil in the world, it is comforting and reassuring to see that the Divine process of the Ingathering of the Exiles continues,” said Michael Freund, chairman of Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based immigrant organization working with the “lost” Jews.
“Just as the prophets foretold, God is gathering in the Bnei Menashe, one of the Lost Tribes of Israel, and bringing them home to Zion,” Freund told WND.
The remaining thousands of members of the Bnei Menashe still reside in India, waiting to move to the Jewish state. Interior Minister Meir Shetreet, whose office must approve the group’s immigration, reportedly allowed the 150 members to move here on humanitarian grounds, since the families were recently told their immigration had been approved, prompting many of them to sell their houses.
In August, WND reported Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office agreed in theory to allow the entire “tribe” to arrive in Israel, but sources close to the negotiations said that decision, like many others, has been placed on hold due to upcoming parliamentary elections in February that will likely see Shetreet replaced with a new interior minister. The new government will thus need to re-approve the Bnei Menashe’s “return.”
Over the last decade, several organizations, most notably Shavei Israel, have brought more than 1,300 members of the Indian group to the Jewish state, where they were successfully integrated into religious Israeli society, holding professional jobs, attending universities, becoming rabbinic leaders and serving in the Israel Defense Forces. Shavei is a private organization that relies on individual donations.
The original batches of Bnei Menashe to arrive here came as tourists in an agreement with Israel’s Interior Ministry. Once in Israel, the Bnei Menashe converted officially to Judaism and became citizens.
But diplomatic wrangling halted the immigration process in 2003, with officials from some Israeli ministries refusing to grant the rest of the group still in India permission to travel here.
To smooth the process, Shavei chairman Freund enlisted the help of Israel’s chief rabbinate, who flew to India in 2005 to convert members of the Bnei Menashe, a process stopped last year by India.
Freund then coordinated with the Israeli government to approve the arrival of batches of a few hundred Bnei Menashe as tourists who would later convert, but that process was halted after Sheetrit took office in July 2007.
Freund said the new batch of 150 Bnei Menashe will arrive here on a special charter flight in January. He said they would settle in the Galilee, “where the landscape and pastoral setting resemble the land of their birth, making it an ideal place for the Bnei Menashe to start their new lives in the Jewish state.”
Tribe members live in the two Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur, to which they say they were exiled from Israel more than 2,700 years ago by the Assyrian empire.
According to Bnei Menashe oral tradition, the tribe was exiled from Israel and pushed to the east, eventually settling in the border regions of China and India where most remain today. Most kept customs similar to Jewish tradition, including observing Shabbat, keeping the laws of Kosher, practicing circumcision on the eighth day of a baby boy’s life and observing laws of family purity.
In the 1950s, several thousand Bnei Menashe say they set out on foot toward Israel but were quickly halted by Indian authorities. Undeterred, many began practicing Orthodox Judaism and pledged to make it to Israel. They now attend community centers in India established by Shavei Israel to teach the Bnei Menashe Jewish tradition and modern Hebrew