One-hundred and two members of India’s Bnei Menashe community are arriving in Israel this week, marking the latest group of so-called “lost” Jews to make aliyah.
Members of the Bnei Menashe community claim to descend from Jews banished from ancient Israel to India in the 8th century BC. Their immigration is organized by Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based nonprofit that calls itself “the only Jewish organization today that is actively reaching out to ‘lost Jews’ in an effort to facilitate their return [to Israel].”
In 2005, then-Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Shlomo Amar officially recognized the Bnei Menashe as a lost tribe, and about 1,700 Bnei Menashe members moved to Israel before the Israeli government stopped giving them visas.
The government later reversed that policy, enabling Bnei Menashe immigration to resume. The latest Bnei Menashe immigrants come from the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram, and will be the first members of their community to make aliyah since January 2014.
“Over the course of the coming year, with God’s help, we will bring a total of more than 700 Bnei Menashe immigrants to Israel—the largest-ever airlift in a single year,” Michael Freund, Shavei Israel’s founder and chairman, said in a statement.
“After 27 centuries of exile, this lost tribe of Israel is truly coming home. But we will not rest until all the remaining Bnei Menashe still in India are able to make aliyah as well,” he added.
Thirty of the Bnei Menashe immigrants are arriving Feb. 14, and the remaining 72 are arriving Feb. 16; the new immigrants will live in the northern Israeli city of Nazareth Illit, which “already has a flourishing Bnei Menashe community,” according to Shavei Israel.
Today roughly 6500 Bnei Hamenashe in the States of Manipur and Mizoram in North India live full Jewish lives. Those who immigrate to Israel undergo Orthodox conversion in the framework of which they have to remarry according to Jewish Law.