Soldier’s Story: From India to IDF
Like many of his peers, 19-year-old Betzalel Gin is enlisting in the IDF. Jin’s story, however, is unusual: he was born in northeastern India, and came to Israel with his family after his parents connected to their family’s roots in the lost tribe of Menashe.
The family began to keep the Sabbath and eat only kosher food while living in Manipur, India. Ultimately they decided to reclaim their heritage by moving to Israel.
The family came alone, without help from agencies for immigrants, and settled in the community of Kiryat Arba in the Judea region, north of Hevron. “My parents were overwhelmed with emotion when they first stepped onto the land of Israel,” Betzalel told Arutz Sheva.
Integrating in Israeli society was difficult, he said, but the community welcomed his family.
“I love this place,” he said. “My ancestors dreamed that their descendants would come to the land of Israel, but they certainly didn’t dream that we would reach Kiryat Arba” near the city of Hevron, which dates back to Biblical times.
Betzalel noted that his own name stemmed from his family’s desire to live as Jews despite the challenges they faced. “My grandfather said that Betzalel Ben-Uri, the ‘architect’ of the Tabernacle, was full of initiative,” he explained. “My parents felt that a Jew must have initiative in order to keep the 613 mitzvot [commandments – ed.].”
When Betzalel was in 11th grade, the family suffered a harsh blow with his father’s death in a car accident. “It was a bad period but we kept going,” he said. “There’s always that lack, you always feel it, but it doesn’t prevent you from doing things in life.”
After spending one year post-high school in a pre-military academy “to get physically stronger, but more importantly – to get spiritually strong,” Betzalel is joining active service, and plans to seek out a challenging role.
The Bnei Menashe community in India claims descent from one of the ten Lost Tribes of Israel, which were exiled by the Assyrian empire more than 2,700 years ago. The Chief Rabbinate has recognized them as “descendants of Israel,” and a government initiative aims to bring the community home to Israel.
In early 2011 Shalem Gin made history by becoming the first in the Bnei Menashe community to become an IDF officer.