“A number of years ago when I was working in the Prime Minister’s Office under Benjamin Netanyahu during his first term in office, I noticed a little orange letter that was unopened and seemed to have come from India. It was addressed to the Prime Minister. As often happens with private letters to politicians, it went unanswered. I decided to open it, and to my surprise it was a letter from a community in India that claimed it was Jewish, was part of the Ten Lost Tribes and wished to return home to Israel. I thought to myself, “if someone is crazy enough to want to join the Jewish people in the state of Israel from India, then why not help them, so I went to meet with the community.”
“The Bnei Menashe have struggled tremendously to hold on to their values, traditions and identity. We are happy to have brought over 2,000 members of the Bnei Menashe community home to Israel and in the next month we are bringing 250 more.”
The Bnei Menashe attribute their heritage to the first exile from Zion in the days of the Assyrian exile back in the 8th Century B.C.E. Israel Returns this month has brought 80 members of Bnei Menashe home so far, and has approximately another 140 to come. Many of the new immigrants are friends, relatives and loved ones of the immigrants who have already come with Israel Returns during the immigration waves seven years ago and last year. Having been separated from their loved ones sometimes for years, the Bnei Menashe have never lost their faith and their hope of one day returning to Israel and being reunited with those who were already here. This faith stood the test of time in the face of bureaucratic red tape that prevented them from migrating. After the first wave of immigration back in 2007 the government of Ehud Olmert closed the door to further immigration stranding many of the Bnei Menashe in India, while being separated from their families, and sometimes even separating fiancees.
“We are extremely thankful to MK Lipman and his party of Yesh Atid for their support in getting this current government to reopen the doors to the Bnei Menashe some of whom can now come home again,” said Freund.
The surprise of the evening was the speech of Ruth Hawkip one of the Bnei Menashe who had come on an earlier wave of immigration from India.
Ruth who had worked for a high-tech company in Bangalore (India’s Silicon Valley) and was studying for her Master’s degree in New Delhi, addressed the mixed Christian and Jewish audience and told them how she had first heard of Israel. “Ever since I was a little girl, my father always used to tell me that India was not our real home. One day we would move to our real home in the land of Israel. He repeated this so often that I thought it was a lie.”
Ruth told the crowd of her own redemption story, from a sense of disbelief to the fulfillment of 2,700 year old dream.
“I never believed that I would actually go and move there. We were the only Jewish family in our village and we had no connection with Israel at all. The Bnei Menashe have many songs of yearning for Zion, one such song tells of messengers from Judah that will come and take us home. One day a few Israeli tourists passed through our village, which was very odd as there wasn’t much to see and no Jewish community. Through the tourists we were put in touch with Israel Returns and suddenly the dream had a semblance of reality,” she said.
“Then, just after my first semester of my Master’s the call came from my father. I couldn’t believe it. I had just made the payment for that semester and I got the call that we had the opportunity to go to Israel. I was torn, because I was in the middle of my degree and it was a lot of money, but my father said that this opportunity may not come again, so I picked up and left, and came home.”
Ruth’s story would not have been possible without the help and intervention of Israel Returns, the organization that takes upon itself the financing of all of the Bnei Menashe immigrants for the flights as well as supporting them for the first three months of their new lives in Israel. Freund said that this is only possible because of the financial backing of international donors and supporters from all over the world.
Members of the Israel365 Summit and other Christian guests who came to the airport to show their support for the immigration of the Bnei Menashe and greet new immigrants from the tribe were overjoyed to see the fulfillment of this biblical prophecy. “I’m waiting here to see this story reach it’s completion and I have got goosebumps,” said John Sommerville a well renowned Christian Zionist.
Freund told Breaking Israel News; “The prophet Isaiah told us that the nations of the world will have a part to play in the return of Jews to their homeland. We see Christian involvement in bringing the Bnei Menashe, as well as other lost Jews, back to Zion as being biblically ordained.”
When asked about the success rate of the Bnei Menashe immigrants and how they handle their new home Freund responded and said: “They have a very successful absorption. There are a large number of Bnei Menashe pursuing higher education degrees, almost all serve in the IDF and many become officers, some have even been Rabbinically ordained. They are a people of strong faith and deep zionist commitment. We invest a great deal of resources in making sure that their absorption goes as smoothly as possible.”
The cost incurred for absorbing a new immigrant for a month is $600 while for the entire three month process costs $1800. A fee that seems trivial when keeping in mind that the result is the fulfillment of a 2,700 year old dream, yet when multiplied by the 7,000 Bnei Menashe who are still awaiting confirmation that they too can come home to Israel, the cost can be prohibitive.
To help allay that, Freund appealed to Christian supporters worldwide. “I call upon our Christian Brethren all over the world to help restore the lost tribe of Menashe back to Zion by supporting our work.” When hearing stories like that of Ruth, and some of the other immigrants from this past week, it is hard not to answer the call.