Making Aliyah: Why 6,000 Jews from Manipur want to emigrate to Israel
Imphal: On December 15 this year, 250 Indian Jews belonging to the Bnei Menashe community from Manipur and Mizoram arrived in Israel. They became the first batch to arrive in the Jewish state after a gap of two-and-a-half years.
The Bnei Menashe community are believed to be the descendants of the tribe of Manasseh, one of the ten lost tribes of Israel, and exiled around 27 centuries ago by the Assyrian Empire.
According to Shavei Israel data, a non-profit organisation that facilitates the immigration of the Jews of Israel, more than 4,000 Bnei Menashe have already made Aliyah and immigrated to Israel. Another 6,500 Bnei Menashe still remain in India’s northeast region, awaiting the chance to return to their ancestral land.
Though Bnei Menashe first arrived in Israel in the 1980s, their first mass migration took place in 2006, when 213 members of the Jewish community emigrated from Mizoram. Subsequently, in 2007, another 233 people emigrated to Israel from Manipur. This was the first mass exodus from the state. However, their long-cherished dreams of returning to their homeland are only possible after they officially embrace Judaism.
The Rabbinic Court of Jerusalem recognised the Bnei Menashe community as one of the ten lost tribes of Israel in 2005. They were referred to as Chin-Kuki-Mizos, commonly known as CHIKIM tribes residing across the region.
In 2004, a Shavei Israel Hebrew Centre was established at B Vengnuom in Churachandpur district by Michael Freund, the founder and chairman of Shavei Israel.
Manipur's Jews live mostly in Churachandpur, Kangpokpi, Tengnoupal, Imphal, Moreh and Tupul (Noney).
A member of the Beit Shalom Synagogue in Churachandpur said the entire CHIKIM tribe is recognised as one of the lost tribes of Israel.
However, many of them cannot call Israel their home, since they still practice Christianity. The advent of Christianity in Manipur was recorded in the 1890s and slowly diffused in the entire hill tribes, including the CHIKIM.
However, as per reports, a few CHIKIM people started embracing the Jewish Sabbath in the early 1960s and adopted the seventh day of the week, i.e. Saturday, as a rest day, unlike the Christian resting day on Sunday.
Speaking with EastMojo, a 48-year-old Peter Gangte (name changed) from Gangbimuol village in Churachandpur said that after realising his Jewish connection, he started practising Judaism in 2003.
"I was still a bachelor when I embraced Judaism. My wife too converted to Judaism after we got married. However, my two children are Jews by birth," said Gangte.
Gangte added that his brother is a research scholar on the Bnei Menashe community, but remains a Christian.
Just like Gangte, many families of the CHIKIM tribe practised and believed in different religions. However, the differences in their faith did not impact their family harmony.
Another member of the Beit Shalom Synagogue in Churachandpur, on condition of anonymity, said that immigration to Israel is complicated since there are no written records of their originality as Jews after they were exiled over 2,700 years ago.
"Those who had gone to Israel underwent extensive counselling and intense scrutiny on Judaism. They also required a rigorous study of the Hebrew language and other rituals of Judaism," he told EastMojo.
Though most of the CHIKIM tribe are still Christians, those who embraced Judaism need to follow a strict dietary plan. They need to give up pork, for example, one of the major diets of the tribal community in Manipur and elsewhere in the northeast region. Keeping their faith alive, all the followers of Judaism recite prayers in Hebrew thrice a day.