‘Lost tribe’ from India returning to Israel

Among the Israelite descendants who have returned to the Promised Land in modern times, the Bnei Menashe identify as part of the “lost tribe” of Manasseh from the northern kingdom of Israel exiled some 2 700 years ago.

The Bnei Menashe (“Sons of Manasseh”) are a people living in northeast India who claim that their ancestors were forcibly exiled from the Land of Israel in 732 BC by the Assyrians into the region of today’s Iraq and Iran. From there, they journeyed eastward along the Silk Road to China, where for centuries they are believed to have been part of the community of Kaifeng Jews. They later wandered southward during a time of persecution and eventually settled in the states of Mizoram and Manipur, located in an isolated enclave of India between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Bnei Mensahe arrivals kissing the ground after getting off their plane in Tel Aviv on May 21

The Bnei Menashe continued to cling to their biblical traditions and identity. They kept the Sabbath and observed kosher laws, celebrated the Jewish festivals, and practiced sacrificial rites. Rediscovered in modern times, their Israelite ancestry was officially recognised by Israel’s rabbinic authorities in 2005.

Israel has allowed over 2 400 members of the Bnei Menashe community to make aliyah so far. They have been returning since 2012 and of the 2 400 who have come home so far, 1 119 have been sponsored by Christians through the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ).

Since their return to Israel the Bnei Menashe have become valued members of Israeli society, with many contributing to the nation as soldiers, medical professionals or in other fields. They greatly respect traditional family values, have a strong work ethic, and are deeply loyal to the Jewish state.

During Israel’s Independence Day celebrations in April, the Bnei Menashe had special reason to rejoice as a member of their community was honoured as one of Israel’s outstanding soldiers at an official ceremony in Jerusalem presided over by outgoing President Reuven Rivlin.

Staff Sergeant Nadiv Khaute, 21, centre, with his parents, at a ceremony where he was honoured by the president of Israel

For the Bnei Menashe community, Staff Sergeant Nadiv Khaute was not the first recipient of the President’s Medal of Excellence. In 2005, IDF Staff Sergeant Tamir Baite, who serves in the Shaked unit of the Givati Brigade, was honoured. And in 2017, IDF Staff Sergeant Eliazer Menashe of the Golani Brigade was given the medal. Their success stories highlight the contributions that the Bnei Menashe are making to the State of Israel. The ICEJ is pleased to play a role in the return of this unique community to their homeland.

Covid complications
With India currently suffering from a major surge in coronavirus deaths and infections, the Israeli government recently decided to speed up the aliyah process for 548 members of the Bnei Menashe community in northeast India who had already been approved for immigration later this year. A special charter flight was arranged by The Jewish Agency for Israel and Shavei Israel to bring the first half of the group in an emergency airlift home on May 31.

The group left their home villages in northeast India for the long bus ride to a regional airport and from there to connect with their specially-chartered flight to Israel. But right before they were to depart on the plane from New Dehli, a number of the group tested positive for Covid-19 and they had to stay behind with their families. Thankfully, the remaining 160 tested negative and were able to arrive safely in Tel Aviv. The 115 who were left behind were quarantined in a hotel back in India, with several hospitalised due to their worsening condition. They are all being housed, fed and cared for until they recover fully and can make the final leg of their journey to Israel.

They are extremely excited about finally ending their 27 centuries of exile and separation from the land and people of Israel.

Among those waiting anxiously for their aliyah date are Reuven Thongkhai Haokip, a retired police officer from Nagaland, India, and his homemaker wife Yokhevet. For them going to Israel will be a return to their ancestral homeland and the reunification of their family. Thy have four daughters and two sons. Their eldest daughter, Maayan, made aliyah in 2007 and lives in Israel with her husband and three daughters. In 2015, their daughters Ayelah and Sarah also made aliyah and raised their families in Israel.

When people ask Reuven and Yokhevet why they want to leave the good life they have in India, they respond: “If our father Abraham was willing to leave his land and his father’s house for the Promised Land, why shouldn’t we?”

Reuven says: “Many years have passed since we were waiting for aliyah, even then we have not lost our faith for a single day. May it be HaShem’s will that we shall reunite soon.”

Reuven Thongkhai Haokip, front centre, and his wife, Yokhevet, front right, wating to make aliyah. Also waiting are their daughter, Dinah, and sons Amos and Joshua.- 

The ICEJ’s support for the return of the Bnei Menashe is based on God’s promises to Israel that He will  “bring your descendants from the east…”, as we read in Isaiah 43:5.

The ICEJ has helped over 160 000 Jewish people make aliyah since 1980.  We invite you to take a place alongside the ICEJ in helping to bring the many Jewish people around the world home as well as also the rest of the Bnei Menashe to Israel soon.If you would like more information or to partner with us please go to www.icej.org.za or email: office@icej.org.za

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