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Indian Jews immigrate to Israel

Bnei Menashe claim descent from Manaseh

PHOTO: AFP

EMOTIONAL WELCOME: A woman arriving from India is greeted by a relative at Ben Gurion airport on Tuesday.

Tel Aviv: A group of 54 Jewish persons from Mizoram in northeastern India, who claim to be descendants of an ancient Jewish tribe, arrived here on Tuesday. This marks the beginning of the largest-ever single-round exodus of Jews from India to Israel.

The group that landed at the 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 from the Israel Jewish Agency, accompanying the immigrants, said.

The Bnei Menashe, who 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, are arriving here in four batches.

Several veterans from the community were waiting at the airport. There were emotional scenes of re-union.

"It is like a dream come true. We are returning to the land of our forefathers. I have been waiting... ," 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 ," Mr. Israel added.

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

A spokesman for the Israel Jewish Agency said some of the immigrants who would be coming later would be settled in Upper Nazareth and the Carmiel region.

Former Interior Minister Avraham Poraz had put a freeze on the immigration of Bnei Menashe in 2003 on the question of their Jewishness. But last year, chief shephardic rabbi Shlomo Amar declared them descendants of Israel, removing the hurdle.

Following the decision, 218 members of the community underwent a ritual in India that is normally done for those who had a break from Judaism.

Some 800 people from the community already live in Israel, mostly in West Bank settlements. — PTI

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