Fifty-three Jews who claim to be the descendants of a lost biblical Jewish tribe immigrated
on Monday from their village in northeastern India, celebrating their arrival in a special operation after a five-year struggle to get in.
The Bnei Menashe say they are descended from Jews banished from ancient Israel to India in the eighth century B.C.
Israel's Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar recognized them as a lost tribe in 2005, and about 1,700 moved to Israel over the next two years before the government stopped giving them visas.
Israel recently reversed that policy, agreeing to let the remaining 7,200 Bnei Menashe immigrate.
After a conversion and citizenship acquiring process at the Givat Haviva absorption center, the new immigrants will unite with the 1,700 community members already living in Israel.
Bnei Menashe at Ben-Gurion Airport (Photo: AFP)
Tears of joy during flight (Photo: AFP)
'Our lost brothers coming home' (Photo: AFP)
"I have fulfilled my dream," 20-year-old Zimra Danapa, who made aliyah on Monday with her mother and sister, told Ynet. "After many years of hoping to arrive in Israel, I am very excited to be here.
"We plan to build our life here and bring more family members here," she added.
"Israel is my heritage and religion. Israel is everything to me," said Ben Asher, 23, who arrived with his family. "We are very happy. We've been waiting for this moment for hundreds of years."
Asher plans to join the IDF soon. "I want to serve my country in any way possible," he said.
Michael Freund, chairman of the Shavei Israel organization which acts on Bnei Menashe's behalf, said nearly 300 others will arrive in the coming weeks.
"This is a very moving aliyah," he said. "We feel like our lost brothers have come home."
Freund, who joined the flight from India, said that during the flight "we all had tears of joy in our eyes, realizing that this is part of the closure of a 2,700-year historical circle of this lost tribe."
'Demonstrating power of Jewish faith' (Photo: Getty Images)
Freund stressed that "their immigration to Israel demonstrates the power and determination of the Jewish faith: Despite being cut off for hundreds and thousands of years, they never forgot who they were and where they want to return to."
Zvi Kalfa, a community member who immigrated to Israel 13 years ago and now helps absorb the new olim, said: "At the airport there was an exciting reunion. Some of the immigrants united with their relatives who have already been here for years."
Kalfa expressed his hope that his parents, who are still in India, would make aliyah later on. "Our hope is to bring everyone here," he concluded.