BENE ISRAEL JEWS
The Bene Israel Jews have traditionally lived in Bombay and villages on the Konkan Coast, south of Bombay. Today around, 5,000 of them live in India and 32,000 of so live in Israel. They claim they originated in Israel and were members of a “lost tribe” shipwrecked in the Indian coast in 175 B.C. Their name means “Children of God” in Hebrew.
The Bene Israel speak Marathi, the language of their neighbors. In coastal areas they traditionally worked as oil pressers. In Bombay, they have traditionally lived in tenement buildings and were employed as white color workers, mechanics and skilled laborers in factories and workshops. Some served in the armed forces. A minority were doctors, lawyers and teachers.
The Bene Israel Jew embraced some Hindu beliefs about caste and were incorporated by Hindus into the caste system. They were also divided into White (Gora) and Black (Kala). They married only other Jews and intermarriage between Black Bene Israel and White Bene Israel was very rare. Black Ben Israel are descendants of offspring of mixed marriages with Hindus, maybe Dalits (untouchables). Many Israel Bene marriage customs are in line with Hindu concepts of marriage. They have traditionally preferred cross-cousin marriages, discouraged the marriage of widows, practiced some polygamy and conducted a prewedding henna ceremony.
Aharon Daniel wrote: “The largest Jewish community of Indian Jews is that of the Bene Israel. Earlier the Bene Israel lived in the villages of west Maharashtra in the Konkan coast. In the nineteenth century they started moving to the cities, mainly to Bombay (now called Mumbai) and to other cities among them Pune, Ahmadabad and Karachi which is now part of Pakistan. From 1950 onwards they started immigrating to Israel. The Bene Israel community was completely isolated from most of the other Jewish communities of the world. They are known as Bene Israel because that’s how they called themselves. The Bene Israel believe that their forefathers arrived in India before the destruction of the second temple. The accepted version is that their forefathers were sailing in a commercial ship from the Land of Israel to India. The ship wrecked near the coast of Konkan. From the ship survived 14 people, seven men and seven women. They swam towards the land and arrived at the village called Navgaon. All their belongings drowned in the sea. The dead bodies of the others from the ship were buried in the village. The survivors somehow managed to settle in the village and started working in agriculture and oil producing which later on became their main profession. As time passed the descendants of the survivors forgot Hebrew and their religious tradition. But they carried out some of the Israeli tradition. [Source: Aharon Daniel, 1999-2000, adaniel.tripod.com/jews ]
“The Bene Israels observed Sabbath (Saturday) and abstained on this day from any work. They circumcised their sons on the eighth day after birth. They didn’t eat fish which didn’t had fins and scales. They observed a few Israeli festivals and called them by Indian names, but until their association with other Jewish communities they weren’t aware of the Hanukkah festival and the ninth of Ab fast. These two traditions became part of Jewish tradition after the destruction of the second Temple and therefore the belief that the Bene Israels forefathers arrived in India before the destruction of the second temple. On each religious occasion such as marriage; circumcision or death the Bene Israelis used to recite the ‘Shema’ verse.
“The Bene Israel community grew and they became a guild or an Indian caste with the profession of oil pressers. They left their first village, Navgaon, and dispersed to other villages and towns in the coast of Konkan becoming the oil producers and oil pressers of their respective villages. From the names of the villages and towns; like Roha, Pen, Pali or Ashtam; they derived their surnames like Rohekar; Penkar; Palkar; Ashtamkar and such others. The Bene Israels used to abstain from any work on Saturday (which wasn’t an acceptable feature in India) and were therefore called ‘Shenwar Teli’ meaning ‘Saturday oil pressers’.
Book: India's Bene Israel by Shirley Isenberg. A Comprehensive Inquiry and Sourcebook:-Even though this book isn't always available at Amazon.This is the book for those interested in the Bene Israel community. This book has lot of information about the Bene Israel community and also about Jewish culture and history. In this book you will also find information about Indian society.
Websites and Resources: Judaism Judaism101 jewfaq.org ; Aish.com aish.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; torah.org torah.org ; Chabad,org chabad.org/library/bible ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/judaism ; BBC - Religion: Judaism bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism ; Encyclopædia Britannica, britannica.com/topic/Judaism; Virtual Jewish Library jewishvirtuallibrary.org/index ; Yivo Institute of Jewish Research yivoinstitute.org ;
Jewish History: Jewish History Timeline jewishhistory.org.il/history ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Jewish History Resource Center dinur.org ; Center for Jewish History cjh.org ; Jewish History.org jewishhistory.org ; Holocaust Museum ushmm.org/research/collections/photo ; Jewish Museum London jewishmuseum.org.uk ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ccel.org
See Separate Article JEWS IN INDIA factsanddetails.com
History of the Bene Israel Jews
According to tradition, the original shipwrecked Bene Israel Jews lost all their prayer books and kept their religion alive by what they knew about in the their heads—namely some prayers and dietary customs. They practiced circumcision, celebrated many Jewish festivals but didn’t have synagogues and had adopted many Hindu customs.
The Bene Israel community was discovered in the 18th century and was brought in to line with mainstream Judaism. They established their first synagogue in Bombay in 1796. Some Cochin Jews assisted them by acting as cantors, ritual slaughterers and teachers. In the 19th century some Jews from Bagdad, including the legendary Sassoon family, joined the Bombay community.
The number of Bene Israel increased from 6,000 in the 1930s to 20,000 in 1948. After Israel became an independent state in 1953 large numbers of Bene Israel began emigrating to Israel. In the 1950s, many rabbis refused to marry Bene Israel with other Israelis due to doubts about their purity and Jewishness, The Ben Israel staged some protest in the early 1960s. In 1964 the Chief Rabbinate declared them “full Jews in every respect.”
Aharon Daniel wrote: “According to Bene Israel tradition, somewhere between 1000 AD to 1400 AD a Jewish merchant, David Rahabi, arrived in west India. The Bene Israels believe that Rahabi was Moses Maimonides (a very respected Jewish scholar also called ‘Rambam’) brother. Rahabi was surprised to find this Bene Israel community which followed some Jewish traditions and festivals. He decided to enlighten them with all the Jewish traditions. He chose three men from the Bene Israel community and taught them Talmud and other Jewish books. These three people became to be known as ‘Kaji’ (meaning judge in Arabic) and were religious and social leaders of the Bene Israel community. And so, it is believed, began the revivification of the Bene Israel Jews towards Judaism. Later on in the eighteenth century Cochini Jews and other Jewish communities also began to associate religiously with the Bene Israel Jews. [Source: Aharon Daniel, 1999-2000, adaniel.tripod.com/jews ]
“A very important non-Jewish community that had an impact on the Bene Israel was the Christian missionaries. In the eighteenth century many Christian missionaries came to India. Some of them had anthropological interest in India. They began with their own theories about the origins of Bene Israel and other researchers including the Bene Israel themselves also began theorizing the origins of the Bene Israel. Different researchers came to different conclusions. Among the theories there were a few which came to conclusion that the Bene Israel’s forefathers arrived in India before the destruction of the second Temple and this is because the Bene Israel (meaning children of Israel) did not call themselves Jews (In the narrow sense the Jews are descendants only from the two of the twelve tribes of Children Of Israel, Yehuda and Benjamin) . For the same reason others concluded that the Indian Bene Israel are from the ‘Lost Tribes’ which are the ten tribes (of the twelve tribes of the Children Of Israel) whom the Assyrians exiled from the Land Of Israel in 800 BC and what happened of them is not known (and are therefore called Lost Tribes) . Others concluded that the Bene Israel originate from the tribes of Zvulun and Asher and that’s because the Bene Israel engaged in the profession of oil pressing which is believed to be the profession popular among the tribes of Zvulun and Asher. Other reasons that support the theory that the Bene Israel Jews are in India for over 2000 years is the fact that they weren’t aware of the main Jewish tradition which evolved in Judaism between 200 BC to 300 AD. Others concluded that the Bene Israel are Jews who came to India from Arab countries at a much later period, somewhere around the seventh century AD. And there are other theories, among them is that the Bene Israel aren’t at all of Israeli origin.
“With the revival of Judaism among the Bene Israel by David Rahabi, he selected three men to be the religious leaders of the community and called them ‘Kaji’. These Kajis fulfilled all the religious jobs of the community. The Kaji’s profession was hereditary. From the eighteenth century the Bene Israel developed contact and communication with other Jewish communities especially with the ‘Cochini’ Jews who lived in the southern part of India the present state of Kerala and with Jews from Iraq and Yemen. The contacts and communication with the Yemen Jews started when Bene Israels, who were soldiers in the Indian-British army, were posted at Aden in Yemen. The Bene Israel in Aden had their prayer hall in Aden and later on brought Yemenite Jewish cantors to India and so adopting the Yemenite style of praying (Because of the Yemenite way of praying some researchers wrongly presume that the Bene Israel originate from Yemen). In the first synagogues of the Bene Israel Jews the cantors were mainly Yemenite or Iraqi or Cochini. After the cantors, the Bene Israel began to bring to India Jewish circumciser and butchers from Yemen and so the Kajis lost their traditional position as head of the community.
“The first Bene Israel synagogue built by Samuel Divekar in 1796. Divekar with other Bene Israels served as a soldier of the British in India. In one of the wars against the kingdom of Mysore in south India, he with other British Indian soldiers was captured. The King of Mysore, Tipu Sultan, was a Muslim. He used to execute the captured soldiers, but when his mother heard of the Bene Israel captives, she begged her son to spare the Bene Israel soldiers because the Bene Israel are referred to in the holy Muslim Koran as the Chosen People of the Almighty. Many claim that if the Bene Israels had called themselves Yehudi (Jew) and not Bene Israel they would have been executed because the Koran looks negatively at Jews but in more positive way at the Bene Israels. After being spared Samuel Divekar decided to thank the Lord by building a synagogue. Later on more synagogue were build by the Bene Israels in India. There was even a Reform Jewish synagogue built in 1925. Among the synagogues, the synagogue in the town of Panvel (near Mumbai) is considered special and sacred where it is believed, prayers are fulfilled.
“Until the twentieth century the Bene Israels referred to themselves as Bene Israels or Israels and not as Jews. In the twentieth century they slowly began to refer to themselves as Jews but normally they used to refer to themselves as Bene Israel and to the Jews from Arab countries who settled in India (Baghdadi Jews) as ‘Yehudi’. In some of the birth certificates and other legal documents of the early twentieth century their religion was specified as ‘Bene Israel’ and not Jew. Many Indians (non-Jewish) of west Maharashtra even today refer to Jews as Bene Israel or Israel and not as ‘Jew’.
“The Bene Israel as a community weren’t a powerful influential community in their local areas but there were among them some who advanced to high ranks in the armies of local rulers. Some of them also got land from the local rulers as a prize for their services. After the British arrived to India, many Bene Israels joined the British forces in India and fought for the British Empire in their different wars around the world. Later on the Bene Israels adopted the profession of building contractors and other new modern professions that emerged in India such as office clerks, law, modern medicine and other professions. There were some Bene Israels who reach to high positions of judges, lawyers, doctors, institute managers and administrative or other high ranking officers in government services.
“The Bene Israel’s population at their height was perhaps 30000 in India and that was in the 1950s. Proportionally they weren’t even 0.01 percent of the Indian population. Since the 1950s most of the Bene Israel have immigrated to Israel, and some to English speaking countries like Australia and England. Today in India there are less than 5000 Bene Israels, most of them live in Thana a suburb of Mumbai (Bombay).
Bene Israel Jews Customs and Traditions
Aharon Daniel wrote: ““The Bene Israels have a few Jewish customs almost unique only to them. The community members almost in every thanksgiving ceremony maintain a ritual called ‘Malida’. Malida is a home ritual in which the men sit around a plate full of roasted rice, fruits, spices and flowers. In this ceremony they sing songs praising the Lord. In the main song they also praise Prophet Elijah as the precursor of the Messiah. The Bene Israel legend also narrates of two occasions when Prophet Elijah visited them and returned to heaven. The first occasion occurred immediately after the arrival of Bene Israel to the coast of Konkan. On this occasion he revivified the unconscious Bene Israels who swam to the beach from the sea. [Source: Aharon Daniel, 1999-2000, adaniel.tripod.com/jews ]
The second occasion occurred at a much latter period. At this visit the Bene Israel believe, Prophet Elijah also left a footprint from where he rose to heaven. In this place in the village of Khandala near Alibag (there is also a tourist town by the same name near Pune in Maharashtra and that’s a different place) the Bene Israels used to have religious rituals. Another custom unique to the Bene Israel was abstaining from eating beef. The majority of Indians are Hindus. The Hindus believe that cow is sacred and therefore to maintain good relations with their Hindu neighbors they abstained from eating beef and instead eat mutton. Another custom of the Bene Israel inspired by their Hindu neighbors was, not remarrying of widows and not maintaining the levirate marriage (a Jewish custom which commands marriage between the widow and her dead husband’s brother if the man dies childless) . The Bene Israels were also less strict about the Kosher laws. They didn’t keep two complete sets of kitchen utensils but only two sets of cooking utensils.
“The Bene Israels divide their community into two groups. ‘Gora’ and ‘Kala’. Gora (meaning white) are majority in the community and their both parents are of Jewish religion. Kala (meaning black) is the smaller group whose father is of Israeli origin but mother is non-Jewish. These two groups use to pray together but the Goras didn’t accept the Kalas as complete Jews and didn’t mingle with them, nor did they marry with them. The Goras also didn’t allow the Kalas to hold the ‘Sefer’ or to blow the ‘Shofar’.
Lost Tribes in India
In India there are a million or so Indians who believe that they descended from the Israelite tribe of Manasseh, which was expelled by the Assyrians 2,700 years ago. About of 5,000 of these follow religious rules listed in the Bible—including animal sacrifices.
Several hundred lost tribe members have come to Israel as immigrants and have been allowed to become Israeli citizens if they converted to Judaism. One Indian tribe member interviewed by the Wall Street Journal was a university graduate with a degree political science who came from Manipur, near the Burmese border. He said he came to Israel so he could follow his religious commandments. After his arrival he got a job working on a farm and spent much is his free time studying Hebrew, Judaism and Jewish customs.
The Mizo — an ethnic group that lives mainly in the small northeastern Indian states of Mizoram, Manipur and Tripura — claim to be one of the lost tribes of Israel. They have a tradition of songs with stories that are similar to those found in the Bible. Also known as the Lushai and Zomi, the Mizo are a colorful tribe with a code of ethics that requires them to be hospitable, kind, unselfish and courageous. They are closely related to the Chin people of Myanmar. Their name means “people of the high land.” [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: South Asia, edited by Paul Hockings, C.K. Hall & Company, 1992]
Aharon Daniel wrote: “In east India in the States of and Mizoram exists a community which sees itself as descendants of the Menashe Tribe (which is one of the 10 lost tribes). These people have Chinese appearance and they claim that after their forefathers were exiled and enslaved by the Assyrians they somehow escaped from slavery and arrived in China. Later on they moved to the Chinese-Burmese border and much later on to the neighboring east India. Most of the residents of Mizoram and Manipur are Christians. Among the Manipur Jews there are some who believe that all the Manipur and Mizoram residents (about 2 million people) are originally from the Menashe tribe. The Manipur Jews believe that the Christian missionaries in the 19th century, forced these Jews to abolish their Jewish identity and adopt Christianity. [Source: Aharon Daniel, 1999-2000, adaniel.tripod.com/jews ]
“From 1951 after a local chief, named Tchalah revealed to his people that God had told him that his people should return to their original religion and land (Judaism and Israel), there is a movement to return to Judaism and immigration to Israel. Some of them contacted with Israeli rabbis and started learning Judaism. Some of the Israeli rabbis accept their Judaism and others don’t see them as original Jews. Many of the immigrating Manipuri Jews to Israel have converted to Judaism through strict Jewish laws.
The Mizo have traditionally been slash-and-burn agriculturists who hunted birds with catapults. Their main cash crop is ginger. Their language belong to the Kuki-Chin Subgroup of the Kuki-Naga Group of the Tibeto-Burman family of languages. These language are all tonal and monosyllabic and had no written form until missionaries gave them the Roman alphabets in the 1800s. The Mizo and Chin share a similar history (See Chin). The Mizos have been in rebellion against Indian rule since 1966. They are allied with the Nagas and the Razakars, a non-Bengali Muslim group from Bangladesh."
Nearly all the Mizos in northeastern India converted to Christianity due to the pioneering efforts of an obscure Welsh mission. Most are Protestants and belong to the Welsh Presbyterian, United Pentecostal, Salvation Army or Seventh-Day Adventist sects. Mizo villages are usually set up around churches. Pre-marital sex is common even though it is discouraged. The bride-price process is complicated and often includes the ritual sharing of a killed animal. Mizo women produce lovely textiles with geometric designs. They like Western-style music and use guitars and big Mizo drums and traditional bamboo dances to accompany church hymns.
Bnei Menashe: Indian Jews from 'Lost Tribe'
The Bnei Menashe ("Sons of Menasseh") are a small group with about 10,000 members within the indigenous people of India's North-Eastern border states of Manipur and Mizoram near India's border with Myanmar. They say they are descended from Jews banished from ancient Israel by the Assyrians to India in the eighth century B.C. Over the centuries they became animists, and in the 19th century, British missionaries converted many to Christianity. Even so, the group says they continued to practice ancient Jewish rituals, including animal sacrifices, which they say were passed down from generation to generation. Jews in the Holy Land stopped animal sacrifices after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70. [Source: Lauren E. Bohn, Associated Press, December 25, 2012]
The Bnei Menashe are made up of Mizo, Kuki and Chin peoples, who all speak Tibeto-Burman languages, and whose ancestors migrated into northeast India from Burma mostly in the 17th and 18th centuries. They are called Chin in Burma. Prior to conversion in the 19th century to Christianity by Welsh Baptist missionaries, the Chin, Kuki, and Mizo peoples were animists; among their practices was ritual headhunting. Since the late 20th century, some of these peoples have begun following Messianic Judaism. The Bnei Menashe are a small group who started studying and practicing Judaism since the 1970s in a desire to return to what they believe is the religion of their ancestors. The total population of Manipur and Mizoram is more than 3.7 million. The Bnei Menashe number around 10,000; close to 3,000 have emigrated to Israel. [Source: Wikipedia +]
Today there around 7,000 Bnei Menashe in India and 3,000 in Israel. In 2003–2004 DNA testing showed that several hundred men of this group had no evidence of Middle Eastern ancestry. A Kolkata study in 2005, which has been criticised, suggested that a small number of women sampled may have some Middle Eastern ancestry, but this may also have resulted from intermarriage during the thousands of years of migration. In the late 20th century, Israeli Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail of the group Amishav named them Bnei Menashe, based on their account of descent from Menasseh. Most of the peoples in these two northeast states, who number more than 3.7 million, do not identify with these claims. +
Greg Myre wrote in The New York Times: “There is no proof, though, of historical links to the Manasseh, one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel driven into exile by the Assyrians in the eighth century B.C. ...The Bnei Menashe did not practice Judaism before British missionaries converted them to Christianity about a century ago. They followed an animist religion typical of Southeast Asian hill tribes. But that religion did seem to include some practices that were similar to Bible stories, said Hillel Halkin, an Israeli journalist who has written a book about them, "Across the Sabbath River: In Search of a Lost Tribe of Israel." [Source: Greg Myre, The New York Times, December 22, 2003 ]
“It is not clear what prompted the Bnei Menashe to begin practicing Judaism. In the 1950's they were still Christians, but they began adopting Old Testament laws, like observing the Sabbath and Jewish dietary laws. By the 1970's, they were practicing Judaism, Mr. Halkin said. There was no sign of any outside influence. The Bnei Menashe wrote letters to Israeli officials in the late 1970's seeking more information on Judaism. Then Amishav contacted them, and the group began bringing the Beni Menashe to Israel in the early 1990s.
Bnei Menashe Move to Israel
After an Israeli chief rabbi recognized the Bnei Menashe as a lost tribe in 2005, allowing aliyah after formal conversion. about 1,700 moved to Israel over the next two years after that before the government stopped giving them visas. In the early 21st century, Israel halted immigration by Bnei Menashe; it resumed after a change in government.” [Source: Wikipedia, Associated Press]
In 2012, dozens of Jews were allowed to emigrate to Israel from their village in northeastern India after struggling for five years to get in. Lauren E. Bohn of Associated Press wrote: “Israel recently reversed that policy, agreeing to let the remaining 7,200 Bnei Menashe immigrate. Fifty-three arrived on a flight... Michael Freund, an Israel-based activist on their behalf, said nearly 300 others will arrive in the coming weeks. "After waiting for thousands of years, our dream came true," said Lhing Lenchonz, 26, who arrived with her husband and 8-month-old daughter. "We are now in our land." [Source: Lauren E. Bohn, Associated Press, December 25, 2012 ]
“Not all Israelis think Bnei Menashe qualify as Jews, and some suspect they are simply fleeing poverty in India. Avraham Poraz, a former interior minister, said they were not linked to the Jewish people. He also charged that Israeli settlers were using them to strengthen Israel's claims to the West Bank. When Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar recognized the Bnei Menashe as a lost tribe in 2005, he insisted they undergo conversion to be recognized as Jews. He sent a rabbinical team to India that converted 218 Bnei Menashe, until Indian authorities stepped in and stopped it.”
'Lost Tribe' Finds Itself in Hostile Lands in the West Bank
As of 2002, Amishav (My People Return) brought 700 of the Bnei Menashe to Israel. Most were placed in settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip — the main arena of Israeli-Palestinian fighting. Newsweek reported: “In October 2002, Utniel, a hilltop settlement south of Hebron, a few of the recent Indian immigrants brought back by Amishav sat on the grass during a break from their Jewish studies, singing songs they learned in Manipur about redemption in Jerusalem. A day earlier, Palestinians had shot two Israelis in an ambush a few miles up the road from the settlement. “We feel good here; we’re not scared,” says one of the students, Yosef Thangjom. At another settlement in the area, Kiryat Arba, Manipur native Odelia Khongsai explains why she chose to leave India two years ago, where she had family and a good job. “I had everything a person could want, but I still felt some-thing spiritual was missing.” [Source: Newsweek, Oct. 21, 2002]
Reporting from Shavei Shomron in the West Bank, Greg Myre wrote in The New York Times: “Sharon Palian and his fellow immigrants from India are still struggling with the Hebrew language and remain partial to homemade kosher curry rather than Israeli cuisine. But the 71 immigrants, who arrived in June with the firm conviction that they were descended from one of the biblical lost tribes of Israel, feel they have completed a spiritual homecoming. "This is my land," said Mr. Palian, a 45-year-old widower who left a lush rice farm and brought his three children with him from the Bnei Menashe community in northeastern India. "I am coming home." [Source: Greg Myre, The New York Times, December 22, 2003]
“Yet by making their home here, over the hill from the Palestinian city of Nablus, they have thrust themselves onto the front lines of the Middle East conflict. "Israel can bring lost tribes from India, Alaska or Mars, as long as they put them inside Israel," said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator. "But to bring a lost person from India and have him find his land in Nablus is just outrageous." A lasting Middle East peace plan might require Israel to abandon some settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. That could affect communities like the Bnei Menashe.
“The immigrants, many of them farmers at home, wear Western clothes, and the men wear skullcaps. The married women cover their hair with knitted caps and wear long skirts, as they did in India. They live a spartan existence in mobile homes, with much of their day devoted to language lessons. Some stay in the nearby settlement of Enav and commute to their classes in an armored bus. They receive a monthly stipend from Amishav, an Israeli group that seeks out "lost Jews" and has been bringing in immigrants from Bnei Menashe for more than a decade. But the immigrants do not yet have jobs, and with no sizable Israeli towns close by, they meet few Israelis and leave the small settlements infrequently.
“On a sunny day here, they received their Hebrew lesson in a classroom that also serves as a community shelter in case of an attack."What do you want to study?" the teacher asked. One young woman replied, "I want to become a doctor." But most of the Bnei Menashe never graduated from high school in India. Most of the immigrants have recently completed a religion course and are now recognized as Jewish by the state, permitting them to become citizens. In the coming months, most are expected to leave Shavei Shomron, but they are likely to land in other settlements where they have relatives or friends.
“The local Bnei Menashe now number about 800, with most of them clustered in three West Bank settlements and one in Gaza. Michael Menashe, who was among the early arrivals from India in 1994, now works with the new Indian immigrants and is a shining example of successful assimilation. His Hebrew is fluent. He has served in the military, worked as a computer technician and married an American immigrant to Israel. He is one of 11 siblings, 10 of whom have now immigrated. "We begin at zero when we arrive," said Mr. Menashe, 31. "It is difficult to go out and live a normal life. But we don't have a choice. This is where we want to be."
“Amishav, the group that champions the Bnei Menashe, wants to bring all 6,000 of them to Israel. "They work hard, serve in the army and raise good families," said Michael Freund, director of Amishav, which means "my people return" in Hebrew. "They are a blessing to this country." “Mr. Freund said he would gladly settle the immigrants wherever they could be accommodated. They gravitate to settlements because housing is cheaper, and the tightly knit settlement communities are prepared to absorb the newcomers.
“But Peace Now, an Israeli group that monitors settlements, says the recruitment of far-flung groups with questionable Jewish ancestry is part of an effort to raise the number of settlers and to increase the Jewish population relative to the Arabs. "This definitely contradicts the spirit, if not the letter" of the peace plan, "because these people will live in the settlements," said Dror Etkes, a Peace Now spokesman. “Mr. Freund acknowledges that his group wants immigrants for demographic reasons. But he also insists that the commitment of the Bnei Menashe to Judaism is deep-rooted and predated plans to immigrate to Israel.”
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated September 2018