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India's Bnei Menashe Celebrate Chanukah

The 7,200 members of the Bnei Menashe community of northeastern India ushered in the festival of Chanukah this weekend with joy and ceremony.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 12/13/2009, 11:07 AM / Last Update: 12/13/2009, 11:39 AM

Yochanan Phaltual/Shavei Israel

The 7,200 members of the Bnei Menashe community of northeastern India ushered in the festival of Chanukah this weekend with joy and ceremony. The community also hopes to make Aliyah to Israel.
 
"For most of their sojourn in exile, the Bnei Menashe did not observe Chanukah nor were they aware of its existence until the modern era due to a very simple reason: their ancestors were exiled from the land of Israel some 560 years before the historical events which the holiday commemorates," said Shavei Israel Chairman and Founder Michael Freund.

A strong advocate for the group’s aspirations to immigrate to Israel, Freund added, "The Bnei Menashe are anxiously awaiting a decision by Israel's government to allow them to come home to Israel, and we pray that their dream will soon be fulfilled.”
 
The Bnei Menashe ("sons of Manasseh") claim descent from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, which were sent into exile by the Syrian-Greek Empire more than 27 centuries ago. They presently live in India's northeastern border states of Manipur and Mizoram. The Bnei Menashe continued to practice Judaism as their ancestors did, including observing the Sabbath, keeping kosher, celebrating the festivals and following the laws of family purity.

In recent years, some 1,500 Bnei Menashe have been brought to Israel by Shavei Israel, a non-profit organization founded by Freund, who immigrated to Israel from the United States. The organization, which is active in nine countries, was formed with the goal of strengthening ties between the State of Israel and the descendants of Jews around the world.  It provides assistance to a variety of different communities such as the Bnei Menashe of India, the Bnai Anousim in Spain, Portugal and South America, the Subbotnik Jews of Russia, the Jewish community of Kaifeng in China, the "Hidden Jews" of Poland from the Holocaust era and others.