B´nei Menashe Soldier Honored, Family Still Stuck in India

As Israelis prepare to mark Memorial and Independence Days, descendants of a lost Jewish tribe in northern India will gather to commemorate the IDF's fallen soldiers and celebrate Israel's rebirth.

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Israel National News Staff, | updated: 16:26

The B'nei Menashe will have special reason to rejoice this year, as a member of their community will be honored as one of Israel's outstanding soldiers at an official ceremony in Jerusalem, presided over by President Moshe Katzav.

The B'nei Menashe, who reside in the Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur, near the border with Burma, claim descent from the tribe of Manashe, one of the ten tribes exiled from the Land of Israel by the Assyrians over 2,700 years ago. Nearly 1,000 of them have made Aliyah (immigrated to Israel) over the past decade thanks largely to the work of the Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel organization.

In India, hundreds of B'nei Menashe are expected to attend special ceremonies and prayer services slated to be held on Tuesday evening at Shavei Israel's Hebrew Centers in Aizawl, Mizoram and Churachandpur, Manipur - where they will usher in the State of Israel's 58th birthday with song and dance. This will be preceded by a solemn memorial in honor of those who have given their lives in defense of the Jewish state.

Meanwhile, Tamir Baite (pictured), a lone soldier who moved to Israel four years ago, will this week become the first B'nei Menashe member of the IDF to ever to be recognized as one of Israel's outstanding soldiers.
Tamir Baite, in his IDF uniform.

Baite, who serves in the IDF's elite Shaked unit of the Givati Brigade, is one of 120 Israeli soldiers who will receive this honor at a Jerusalem ceremony on Wednesday, to be attended by President Moshe Katzav, Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and other Israeli officials.

For Baite, however, the joy of the event will be somewhat bittersweet: he has not seen his family since moving to Israel and he has tried in vain over the past three years to get permission from the Israeli government to allow them to make Aliyah. In June 2003, then-Interior Minister Avraham Poraz of the anti-religious Shinui party imposed a freeze on B'nei Menashe immigration for political and ideological reasons.

Now, with the help of Shavei Israel, Baite is again appealing to Israel's Interior Ministry to allow his remaining family members to join him here. "Every day, Tamir is defending the country and placing his life on the line to protect it," said Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund. "It is unjust and inconceivable that the Israeli Government would prevent this hero from being reunited with his loved ones here in the Jewish state."

"We call on Prime Minister Olmert to allow Tamir Baite's widowed mother, grandmother and his three siblings to make Aliyah," Freund said, adding, "The time has come to reverse the freeze on B'nei Menashe immigration, and to allow this long-lost tribe of Israel to come home to Zion."

Some 7,000 Bnei Menashe currently live in India, waiting to move to Israel. In March 2005, Israel's Chief Rabbinate formally recognized the B'nei Menashe as descendants of Israel.
Shavei Israel Director Michael Freund visiting a B'nei Menashe community in India.

Through its team of emissaries, Shavei Israel operates two Jewish educational centers in India for the B'nei Menashe, where they study Hebrew and Jewish tradition. All of the organization's work is in accordance with Jewish law and is under the guidance and supervision of Israel's Chief Rabbinate.

For more information, contact office@shavei.org