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Exodus of Indian Jews from north-east to Israel

By Harinder Mishra in Tel Aviv
November 21, 2006 17:40 IST
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A group of over 50 Jews from India's northeast, who claim to be descendants of an ancient Jewish tribe, arrived in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, marking the beginning of the largest-ever exodus of Jews from the country to Israel.

The group that landed at Ben-Gurion airport were taken to the northern Carmiel region. "The area has several similarities with their place back in India and it will be easier for them to adjust," Shalem Rei, a worker with the Israel Jewish Agency, accompanying the new immigrants, said.

The new immigrants from India's northeastern states, who call themselves 'Bnei Menashe' will arrive in Tel Aviv in four batches.

The Bnei Menashe claim descent from the tribe of Manaseh, one of the 10 tribes exiled from the land of Israel by the Assyrians over 2,700 years ago.

Several veterans from the community were waiting for their arrival at the airport and emotional scenes of re-unification could be witnessed.

"It is like a dream come true. We are returning to the land of our forefathers. I have been waiting for it for quite long," Shimon Israel, who has immigrated with his wife and two children, said.

"It is not that we had any problems in India, but being a Jew this is our homeland and we decided on Zionist consideration," Israel added.

"We are very glad that people from our community are being able to come to Israel after waiting for so long," Tzvi Khaute, secretary of Bnei Menashe Council, said.

The spokesman for the Israel Jewish Agency, Michael Jankelowitz told PTI, "The new immigrants will be coming in four batches with the last one arriving on November 29. They will be settled in Upper Nazareth and Carmiel region."

Former Interior Minister Avraham Poraz had put a freeze on the immigration of Bnei Menashe in 2003 due to the question of their Jewishness.

Last year, Chief Shephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar declared them descendants of Israel removing hurdles from their immigration.

Following the decision, 218 members of the community underwent a ritual, which is normally done with those who had a break from Judaism, in northeast India formally bringing them back to their religion.

 Some 800 people from the community are already living in Israel, mostly in the West Bank settlements.

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Harinder Mishra in Tel Aviv
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