Is Israel about to welcome new immigrants belonging to New Zealand's indigenous Polynesian people? Israel's Ambassador to Australia and New Zealand Yuval Rotem paid an unusual visit this week to the Maori community, which has recently drawn closer to Judaism and Kabbalah.
The ambassador and the embassy workers were welcomed by the community members in a Maori ceremony, which included dances, greetings in the local language, songs and the traditional "hongi" (greeting guests by pressing noses with them).
The meeting was initiated by the deputy president of Auckland's reform synagogue, a Maori man who converted to Judaism several years ago. His English name is Steve and his Hebrew name is Shimshon.
"I always felt close to Judaism. I believe our forefathers were originally Jewish," Shimshon said.
After the ceremony, the ambassador toured the Maori community institutions, which include a spiritual center, a school, houses and a library. Rotem was surprised to discover that the Maori community is drawing close to Judaism.
The community has a group of some 90 people studying Kabbalah, and every Sunday morning they meet in one of the rooms for a videoconference with the Kabbalah Center in Los Angeles, and study the Bible portion of the week together with the American students.
The community leader told the ambassador about the difficulties faced by the Maori tribes in New Zealand, although the community recently gained political power through significant representation in the parliament, and has started fighting for its rights
Today, one of every seven New Zealanders belongs to the Maori community.
"We believe there is a connection between the Maoris and the Jews. We admire Israel
and the Jews," explained the president of the Maori community in Auckland, adding that many of the Maoris have taken an interest in Judaism and Kabbalah and want to get closer to Israel.
The Maoris said they wish to launch a communication channel for cooperation between the Maori community and the Israeli Embassy in Australia. Ambassador Rotem said he was very moved by the meeting and was particularly impressed by the Maoris' attitude towards Israel and Judaism.
The Maoris are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. They came to New Zealand from eastern Polynesia thousands of years ago. The Maori language is a Polynesian language related to the one spoken in Tahiti, Hawaii and other islands east of Samoa in the southern Pacific Ocean. The word "maori" means "normal" in the Maori language.
At the beginning of the 19th century, at the conclusion of their war against the European settlers, there were some 100,000 Maoris. At the end of the 19th century, their number dropped to 40,000. Today the Maori tribes consist of 600,000 people.