They say that airports are places of broken hearts and fulfilled dreams. Of heart wrenching goodbyes and new beginnings. Having been in and out of many airports, nothing could have prepared me witnessing the fulfillment of prophecy or the reunification of loving couples separated by leagues of ocean and bureaucratic red tape.
Yesterday, together with members of the Israel365 summit to Israel, I witnessed the in-gathering of the exiles of Israel and the return of members of one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel – the Bnei Menashe from India.
This was the second flight over the last week of members of the lost tribe of Menashe coming home to Zion. On both flights were young women whose fiancés had already arrived to Israel in an earlier wave of immigration. One woman’s fiancé arrived to Israel last year and the other over seven years ago.
Gamliel and Edna had been separated for seven years since the first wave of Bnei Menashe immigrants arrived to Israel, sponsored by the Israel Returns organization which seeks to bring the lost tribes of Israel back to their homeland. Edna was unable to make the journey at the time, and when the government of then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert closed the door to Bnei Menashe immigration, the two were separated for seven years.
Gamliel and Edna have been unable to see each other and have only been able to communicate through phone calls and emails. Israel Returns had been working tirelessly on Edna’s behalf as well as on the behalf of the 7,200 other Bnei Menashe Jews in India who wait anxiously to make the journey.
Finally, last year, the doors were opened again to the Bnei Menashe and new waves of immigrants were able to come to Israel. Edna was on the first flight.
Another young couple, Gavriel and Leora, have not seen each other in a year and a half. Gavriel had immigrated to Israel ahead of his fiancé and is living together with other members of his community in Migdal Ha-Emek in the north of Israel. He currently works in a factory that produces chocolate.
As he was waiting for his intended to come off the plane, Gavriel told Breaking Israel News, “I can’t wait to see her. We’ve been in touch over the past year and a half via Whatsapp, SMS, phone calls, but nothing can compare to actually being with her.”
The young man was anxiously waiting for her for over four hours in the airport lounge and almost jumped out of his skin due to excitement once she came through the doors of the arrival lounge. His friends and family, as well as part of her extended family, all came to cheer him on and support them as well as the other immigrants in what quickly became a frenzy of hugging, crying, and thanking God.
Spectators began to wonder what all the hoopla was about and when they heard that the prophecy of the in-gathering of the exiles was happening right before their eyes, they immediately began to join in the celebration and greetings offered to the new immigrants.
After 2,700 years, these Bnei Menashe were finally home.
“This whole thing is surreal, I’ve never quite seen anything like it, and I’ve lived here all my life and seen many people immigrate to Israel,” said a passerby, who stopped her phone call and joined in the celebration.
Gavriel, who had brought roses for Leora, dropped them in his excitement as he ran up and hugged her. His friend picked them up and carried them to the bus where they would be traveling together to Kfar Hassidim for the first few days of their new life.
The influx of the new immigrants brings with it brothers, sisters, parents, children and cousins of the Bnei Menashe, who currently reside in Israel. Many have not seen each other for several years.
Michael Freund, director of Israel Returns, the organization that facilitated the immigration, spoke to the newly arrived immigrants as they as they prepared themselves to set out in their ancestral homeland.
“You have been through a lot these past few days. But we are here to welcome you home. None of this would have been possible without the State of Israel. So, are you ready to begin your new life here in Israel?” he asked the crowd, in response to which the weary travelers all began clapping and cheering.
Freund led the group in singing Hatikva, Israel’s national anthem, before departing from the airport to the buses that would lead the new immigrants to their temporary new homes and to the reunification of their families.
The song took on a new meaning for all those present.
“As Long as in the heart within, a Jewish soul still burns, and onwards towards the ends of the east and eye still gazes upon Zion. We have not yet lost our hope, our hope of over 2000 years, to be a free people upon our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem”.