Last night, the 25th of December, 40 Bnei Menashe (Sons of Menashe) from India made the ultimate journey. Fulfilling a life-long dream, these 40 individuals, made up of children, parents, and grandparents, got on a plane in New Delhi to Israel, arriving in the Holy Land this morning. The arrival of these 40 Bnei Menashe was made possible by the group Israel Returns, founded ten years ago by Michael Freund, whose goal is “bringing home lost tribes and ‘hidden’ Jewish communities.” Breaking Israel News presents exclusive photos and videos from the recent aliyah of 40 Bnei Menashe to Israel on the 26th of December, 2013 (all photos and video courtesy of Michael Freund)
The tribe of Menashe is first discussed in the Book of Genesis in reference to the ancestry of the Jewish people. Menashe and Ephraim, sons of Joseph, son of Jacob, have a unique status in the Bible. The Jewish people are divided into twelve tribes. When being counted, depending on the context, Menashe and Ephraim are combined to create the tribe of Joseph when the tribe of Levi is counted.
Singing on the way to the airport
Other times, when Levi is not counted, Menashe and Ephraim are treated as their own tribes and given equal status with the previous generation. Menashe and Ephraim are also given their own portions in the Land of Israel, again showing equal status with their earlier ancestors. The status of Menashe and Ephraim are cemented in the final words of Moses, when he blesses each tribe and “Of Joseph he said: Blessed by God is his land… majesty is his… they are the myriads of Ephraim and the thousands of Menashe.” (Genesis 33:13,17)
The story of the Bnei Menashe really begins in during the exile of the ten tribes from the Land of Israel during the time of the Book of Kings II and Chronicles II. For the next 2,700 years, the oral history of Bnei Menashe was passed down through the generations, outlining the movement of the tribe from Assyria, Persia, Afghanistan, China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, and India. Today, the descendents of those Bnei Menashe who settled in India and Burma number approximately 4,500. Their tradition holds that they are members of the lost tribe of Menashe who was exiled from Israel by the Assyrians in 723 BCE.
Many of the customs of the Bnei Menashe, such as circumcision of a newborn boy on the eigth day, laws of family purity, and donning four cornered ritual prayer shawls, reflect the long held traditions of the Jewish faith. Today, approximately 2,000 Bnei Menashe have been brought to live in the Holy Land.
In October 2013, the Israeli Government unanimously approved 899 Bnei Menashe from India to move to Israel. When arriving to Israel, Bnei Menashe immigrants are eager to absorb into the culture and society of their homeland but face various challenges. Many join the IDF and are proud to defend the country they have dreamed about their entire lives.