Exodus From India to Israel

Little girl from India holding Israeli flag, makes aliyah to Israel. Photo: Shavei Israel

Little girl from India makes aliyah to Israel. Photo: Shavei Israel

Over 200 new immigrants came from the northeastern Indian state of Manipur to Israel.

The state, which is on the border with Burma, is home to the largest concentration of Bnei Menashe (Sons of Manassah) in India.

The new immigrants plan on settling in the Galilee, where many Bnei Menashe immigrants have made homes. They initially will reside in Shavei Israel’s absorption center in Kfar Hasidim, where they will formally convert to Judaism.

Upon arrival, the new immigrants will immediately begin preparing for Passover. [Read more…]

Gefilte Is Not the Only Fish in Sea

Photo by David Keep

Photo by David Keep

Why do we always have to serve fish for Passover?

I get this question every year from the non-pescatarian participants in our Seder. They clearly do not share my childhood memories of preparing for the holiday of matzahs.

When I was a kid, purchasing and preparing the fish was an unforgettable experience. Serving fish during the Seder is a tradition that goes back to the Talmudic Era (70 BCE). At that time, fish was an affordable specialty that would elevate any celebration. No Passover or Shabbat table was considered complete without it.

My grandmother Devorah kept the traditions of her native Poland her whole life. Even though she had a perfectly good refrigerator in her kitchen in Israel, we would purchase a live carp on the day before the Seder. When we brought the fish home, our bathtub would be half filled with water. The carp was allowed to swim there, while the children played with it. Due to Israel’s water shortages, the fish was the only one who was ever allowed to take a bath! The rest of us very conscientiously showered, using the minimum amount of water necessary.

When the time came, my father would take his heaviest wrench, and slam the fish on the head, killing it with one blow. Then, he would slice it open, and remove its intestines and organs. He would fillet the fish, extricating the delicate flesh from the spine and skin. Carps have lots of tiny bones, so getting them all out was a lot of work. After rinsing the fish, he would hand-grind it. Now it was good enough for savta Devorah’s gefilte fish!

Despite all the jokes about gefilte fish, I have to admit that I loved hers. She mixed the freshly ground fish with chopped almonds, eggs, matzah meal, salt, black pepper and just a touch of sugar. She prepared a broth with fish heads she had purchased from the fishmonger, carrots and onions. The fish balls were poached in this broth. When they were ready, the delicate patties were removed from the broth with a slotted spoon. My savta would arrange them on a serving platter, decorating each with a carrot medallion from the pot. The broth was strained into a glass jar, and both the fish and the broth were refrigerated until the next day. After all the symbolic foods of the Seder were eaten, Shulchan Orech or “the festive meal” was announced. The first course to be served was the gefilte fish.

Savta Devorah’s gefilte fish would have been very familiar to the Jewish housewives of New York’s Lower East Side at the beginning of the 20th century. Because the bulk of Jewish immigrants came to the United States from Eastern Europe, American Jews immediately associate Passover with gefilte fish.

Ashkenazi Jews do not have a monopoly over the consumption of fish during the Seder. This Passover, you can be adventurous by trying fish recipes from different Jewish communities around the world.

For something exotic, you may experiment with the flavors of the Jewish community of Bombay. Merchant traders from Baghdad founded this community about 250 years ago. They adopted the foods of India, and added influences from Arabia, Turkey, and Persia. Here is a recipe for sardina, a fish served cold for Shabbat and Passover. You may prepare it a day or two in advance, and keep it ready to serve in the refrigerator.

Sardinaphoto (17)

Adapted from “Indian-Jewish Cooking” by Mavis Hyman.

  • 2 lbs. fish fillet
  • curry powder
  • olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
  • 2 mangoes, diced
  • 1 bunch scallion, chopped
  • 1 chili pepper, thinly sliced
  • salt
  • cashew nuts, shelled and toasted
  1. Sprinkle some curry powder and salt over the fish fillets.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a heavy frying pan.
  3. Fry the fish on both sides until it flakes easily.
  4. Place the fish in a large bowl, and allow it to cool to room temperature.
  5. Flake the fish with a fork.
  6. Mix in the mangoes, scallions, tamarind concentrate, and chili pepper.
  7. Adjust the seasoning.
  8. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
  9. Serve cold, garnished with cashew nuts.

One of the most ancient Jewish communities in the world is in Georgia, in the Caucasus. The Jews fled to Georgia during the Babylonian Exile, in the sixth Century BCE. Georgia is blessed with a mild climate and rich soil. Fruits, vegetables, and nuts grow abundantly, and are featured in Georgian cuisine. One of the most popular ways of preparing fish in Georgia is with a rich walnut sauce. It is served cold, garnished with pomegranate seeds.

Fish Satsivi

Adapted from Georgian Cuisine by T. Sulakvelidze.

  • lb. fish fillet
  • 1 cup shelled walnuts
  • 1/2 cup wine vinegar
  • 3 onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground clove
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8 whole allspice berries
  • saffron
  • salt
  • dry chili pepper
  • ground black pepper
  • Khmeli-Suneli Georgian spice mix (optional)photo (15)
  • pomegranate seeds
  1. Place the fish fillets in a heavy pot. Cover them with cold water.
  2. Add the bay leaves and allspice berries.
  3. Bring the pot to a boil, and then simmer for 45 minutes.
  4. Remove the fish with a slotted spoon to a casserole dish.
  5. Place the walnuts, garlic, chili pepper, saffron, ground coriander and salt in a food processor.
  6. Grind the nut mixture.
  7. Empty the nut paste into a pot.
  8. Add just enough fish broth to get a creamy consistency.
  9. Add the chopped onions.
  10. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 10 minutes.
  11. Add the vinegar, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper and Khmeli-Suneli.
  12. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes.
  13. Pour the sauce over the fish.
  14. Cover the casserole dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
  15. Serve cold, garnished with fresh pomegranate seeds.

Bnei Menashe Celebrate Yom Haatzmaut in India

— by Jake Sharfman

Over 1200 members from the Bnei Menashe community of northeastern India celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut and the resumption of their Aliyah to Israel yesterday with a festive celebration in the town of Churachandpur in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur.

The gathering, which was sponsored and organized by the Shavei Israel organization, was the largest in the Bnei Menashe community’s history. Just last October, the Israeli government lifted a five-year ban on the Aliyah of Bnei Menashe in a unanimous decision. Since then, over 270 Bnei Menashe have been brought on Aliyah by Shavei Israel.

More after the jump.
“This Yom Ha’atzmaut is particularly poignant for the Bnei Menashe,” Shavei Israel Founder and Chairman Michael Freund said.

With the resumption of the Aliyah from India, the community’s dream of returning to the land of their ancestors is finally coming to fruition. In the coming months, with G-d’s help, we aim to bring another 900 Bnei Menashe back home to Zion.

“There has never been such a joyous event like this before in our community. We are celebrating in spirit with our Bnei Menashe brothers and sisters who have already made Aliyah to Israel in hopes that we will be joining them very soon,” said Yochanon Phaltual, a Bnei Menashe member who organized the event.

To celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut with the realistic hope of making Aliyah soon fills my heart with joy. I was especially moved when we all stood up and sang Hatikvah. That was a very special moment for me and I really hope that we can all sing it together next year in Jerusalem.

Author Chat: Israel Among the Nations

— by Hannah Lee

It’s the best of times for Israel and the worst of times, says Jonathan Adelman, in a presentation exploring Israel’s new relationships with former enemies and their implications for Israeli foreign policy. Professor Adelman is affiliated with the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and the author or editor of 10 books on international affairs.  He has been sent by the U.S. State Department on 14 international speaking tours to a dozen countries, including England, Germany, Spain, Russia, China, India and Japan.  He spoke on behalf of Israel Bonds at Lower Merion Synagogue earlier in October.

More after the jump.
Israel’s challenges for defense, compared to the United States, is its lack of strategic depth — it has only three major cities: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa — and a population density in which 92% of Israelis live on 3400 square miles.  (The Negev in the south has 58% of the land mass, but only 8% of the population live there.)

It’s the best of times because Israel enjoys a robust economy, with the highest average living standards in the Middle East and a per capita income in 2000 that exceeded that of the United Kingdom. On a per capita basis, Israel has the largest number of biotech start-ups and it ranks  second in the world for venture capital funds after the United States.

It’s also the worst of times, with a destabilized Middle East and the greatest existential threat to the world in the last 100 years with the prospect of nuclear capability in Iran. (The estimates for their possession of an atomic bomb range from only 3 months to a year.) It is a nation of almost 6 million  Jews surrounded by 27 million Arabs. However, he’s no Biblical Jeremiah  preaching doom. He sees hope in Israel’s relationships with the former Soviet Union, India, and China.

As a Soviet scholar, Adelman ironically sees Russia as the preferred enemy to Iran, because the Russians are pragmatists, not ideologues, and he thinks that the KGB in effect protected the world from over 40,000 nuclear weapons.  

India is Israel’s new friend: it recognized the state of Israel in 1992 and in January of this year, it signed a free-trade agreement that’s worth $15 billion a year. There is military cooperation and an understanding of the threat of Islamic fundamentalism from its neighbor, Pakistan.

Russia is another surprising ally, where a recent American Jewish Committee poll found more Russians in favor of Israel than from anywhere else, even though two-thirds of these same people would not vote for a Jewish leader for their own country.  Why the new warmth?  Israel was founded on the mold of Russian socialism; 60% of its citizens are from the former Soviet Union*; and it has lost everything else in the Middle East, including Syria. They acknowledge that Mossad and Tzahal, the Israeli Defense Forces, are the best intelligence and military outfits in the world.

Learning from the Chinese who’d successfully harnessed the earning power of its overseas Chinese in its rapid transition from communism to capitalism, the Russians have invited Israelis to manage their own Silicon Valley, Skolkovo.

China is another wary new friend with Israeli consulates in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.

Relations with Japan are okay, but Israel cannot rely on Japan, with its dependence on Persian Gulf oil, a weak military, and a surprising recent history of anti-Semitism (as documented in the number of anti-Zionist books landing on their bestselling lists).

I did not attend Professor Adelman’s second presentation on “The Middle East and the New World Order,” about why the Middle East (except for Israel and Turkey) seemed unaffected by global social transformation — and if the future may be different.

Note: Wikipedia reports that according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2008, of Israel’s 7.3 million people, 75.6 percent were Jews of any background.[1] Among them, 70.3 percent were Sabras (Israeli-born), mostly second- or third-generation Israelis, and the rest are olim (Jewish immigrants to Israel) – 20.5 percent from Europe and the Americas, and 9.2 percent from Asia and Africa, including the Arab countries.

India’s Bnei Menashe Celebrate Hanukkah


The 7,200 members of the Bnei Menashe community of northeastern India ushered in the first night of Hanukkah tonight with joy and ceremony, as they continue to nourish the hope of making aliyah in the near future.

“For most of their sojourn in exile, the Bnei Menashe did not observe Hanukkah nor were they aware of its existence until the modern era. This, due to a very simple reason: their ancestors were exiled from the land of Israel some 560 years before the historical events which Hanukkah commemorates,” Shavei Israel Chairman and Founder Michael Freund said, adding, “But as part of their return to the Jewish people, they have embraced the holiday and made it their own, celebrating it together with Jews everywhere. The Bnei Menashe still in India are anxiously awaiting a decision by Israel’s government to allow them to come home to the Jewish state, and we pray that their dream will soon be fulfilled.”

Photo courtesy of Yochanan Phaltual.
Bnei Menashe

The Bnei Menashe (Hebrew for “sons of Manasseh”) claim descent from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, who were sent into exile by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago. They live in India’s northeastern border states of Manipur and Mizoram. Throughout their exile, the Bnei Menashe nonetheless continued to practice Judaism just as their ancestors did, including observing the Sabbath, keeping kosher, celebrating the festivals and following the laws of family purity. And they continued to nourish the dream of one day returning to the land of their ancestors, the Land of Israel. In recent years, “Shavei Israel” has brought some 1,700 Bnei Menashe back home to Zion. Another 7,200 still remain in India, waiting for the day when they too will be able to return to Israel and the Jewish people.

Shavei Israel

Shavei Israel is a non-profit organization founded by Michael Freund, who immigrated to Israel from the United States, with the aim of strengthening ties between the State of Israel and the descendants of Jews around the world. The organization is currently active in nine countries and provides assistance to a variety of different communities such as the Bnei Menashe of India, the Bnai Anousim in Spain, Portugal and South America, the Subbotnik Jews of Russia, the Jewish community of Kaifeng in China, the “Hidden Jews” of Poland from the Holocaust era and others.