With tears in their eyes, about a hundred new immigrants from the tribe of "Bnei Menashe" excitedly clutched their blue Israeli Identification cards to their chests, and spoke of a two-thousand-year-old dream coming to fruition. Shlomit tearfully hugged her sister who she hadn't seen in more than twenty years, and Sarah said, "I tried to get here for so long ... now we're finally here. It's so wonderful."
After a long hiatus, Israel has renewed the "Bnei Menashe" operation—a community belonging to the so-called "lost tribes." As soon as they landed at Ben Gurion Airport, they rushed to say the Shehecheyanu prayer of thanksgiving and received an Israeli identification card issued to them.
"It's a commandment for every Jew to live in Israel, so I'm fulfilling my duty," Leon, one of the immigrants, told Ynet. Vichy Freund, one of the volunteers who took part in the operation, said that "people like to talk about the American Dream, and here we see the culmination of the Israeli dream which is based on tradition; on spiritual things and less on physical things."
In Israel, there are more than three thousand members of the tribe, and they will be joined by another 700 this year. "We are calling it, 'Operation Menashe 2017,'" said Rabbi Michael Freund, CEO of Shavei Israel Organization. "This is the first wave of the 700, who with God's help, we intend to bring in 2017."
According to Freund, "7,000 Bnei Menashe were left behind, in India, and everyone wants to come here and reunite with their families. In the coming years, we will bring all of them because this is their rightful place."
The immigrants made their way out of the airport toward their new (and temporary) homes in the absorption center in Kfar Hasidim, where they are set to complete the conversion process—and then, they will move to upper Nazareth.
"Bnei Menashe" identify themselves as descendants of the Jewish people. They are part of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribes from Mizoram, Assam and Manipur in Northeastern India, on the border with Myanmar Burma.
According to tradition transmitted from generation to generation, these are the descendants of the tribe of Manasseh—one of the ten tribes exiled from the Land of Israel at the end of the First Temple period.
Their numbers in these areas is currently estimated at approximately 7,000.