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.
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 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.