Carmiel, Israel (CNSNews.com) - Moved by the desire to fulfill ancient Biblical prophecies and undaunted by bureaucratic stumbling blocks and security concerns in a volatile Middle East, more than 200 members of a "lost" Jewish tribe have arrived in Israel from India.
The Bnei Menashe (the children of Manasseh) have been acknowledged by Israel's religious establishment as descendants of one of the ancient 10 "lost tribes" of Israel exiled from the Holy Land 2,700 years ago.
Until about 15 years ago, none had returned to Israel. Since then, only about 1,000 Bnei Menashe had immigrated through various rigorous conversion/immigration plans. But last week, 218 Bnei Menashe new immigrants -- young and old -- arrived on four early morning flights to their new homeland.
"It's the largest group that ever came at one time," according to Michael Freund, chairman and founder of Shavei Israel, an organization that helps communities around the world return to their Jewish roots and to Israel.
"It's the first time they are coming as Jews. It gives us a great deal of hope for the future. There are still 7,000 members of the community that want to come. They face all kinds of bureaucratic challenges," Freund told Cybercast News Service.
Despite recognition as descendants of the Jewish people, the Bnei Menashe must first undergo an official Jewish conversion process before they are permitted to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return. That law allows Jews from around the world to immigrate to Israel freely.
Currently, the Israeli government won't allow them to immigrate unless they are already Jewish, and following the conversion of this group, the Indian government now objects to conversions taking place on its territory, said Freund. But he stated he is confident that a mechanism can be found to bring the remaining thousands.
"[We are] witnessing the fulfillment of God's divine promise to his people. No human power can stand in the way of God's will," said Freund. "Regardless of whether our neighbors like it or not, the Jewish people are coming home."
'We are not afraid'
Cybercast News Service visited the immigrant absorption center in the northern Israeli city of Carmiel, where some of the families are being housed, and met with the new immigrants not long after they arrived.
Couples and families milled around in the hallways, with women dressed in long skirts and head coverings like religious Jewish women in Israel wear. Some had babies resting in slings on their bodies. Teenagers chatted in their native tongue under the pine trees outside.
Tziona Eisenstein is manager of the Carmiel absorption center, where hundreds of new immigrants from around the world live, study Hebrew and get their first taste of life in Israel.
Thirteen Bnei Menashe families -- 43 people -- have now joined them there, Eisenstein said. Unlike other immigrants from non-Western countries, they came with cellular telephones and are computer savvy, she said.
Carmiel, a community of some 42,000 residents, was hard hit by the recent war in Lebanon. The city and surrounding area were in the direct line of fire of the Hizballah missiles.
But no one has asked about security, Eisenstein said, and when she showed them the bomb shelter, they looked at it as a good place to have a recreation hall, she added.
Rivka Israel, 37, who arrived in Israel with her husband Samson and their two children last week, said she is not afraid to be here.
Many people asked her why she would want to go to Israel since there are so many wars here, she said. "We are not afraid," Rivka said. "We haven't been in the war, but because this [is a] holy place, whether it is war or not war, we wanted to come."
Rivka's parents moved to Israel five years ago, and her sisters came here 10 years ago. She had not seen any of them since then until they were reunited when she arrived in Israel.
She and her husband left their jobs five years ago as part of their plan to immigrate to Israel, but bureaucratic decisions in Israel closed the doors. They were stuck in limbo in India without employment and without permission to immigrate. Now, they are here.
"According to the Bible, this is the holy place for us," Rivka said "We want to come even if we are to be poor." A hairdresser by profession, Rivka said that she does not know yet what she and her husband will do when they have finished their Hebrew studies. She wouldn't mind settling in Carmiel, she said. It's a nice place, but she admits she hasn't seen anywhere else in Israel.
Ofra Pachua, 18, had her new baby Tzippora sleeping in a sling around her midsection. She immigrated together with her husband, Shem Tov, her baby, her parents, three siblings and her in-laws, she said.
Ofra said she came because this is the land of her forefathers, the land that God has promised to the Jewish people. "This is God's word fulfilled," she said. "When we are in another land, we cannot fulfill God's word. So it's very important to be in Israel when we are Jews."
See Earlier Story:
'Lost Jewish Tribe' in India Soon to Move to Israel (Oct. 26, 2006)
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