Bnei Menashe Olim Visit Israeli Holy Sites

Dozens of olim from the Bnei Menashe tribe in northern India tour Israel's holy places for the first time in their lives.

Yoni Kempinski,

Tearful reunions as Bnei Menashe olim arrive
Tearful reunions as Bnei Menashe olim arrive
Shavei Israel

Millions of visitors make their way through the streets of Jerusalem every year, but earlier this week one particularly special group touched the holy stones of the Jewish capital for the first time.

Just three months after making aliyah from Manipur in northeast India, dozens of members of the Bnei Menashe visited Israel's holy sites as part of a trip arranged by the Shavei Israel organization, which helps "lost" Jews find their way back home to their Jewish heritage and homeland.

The Bnei Menashe - literally "Children of Menashe" - claim descent from the Israelite tribe of Menashe, one of the 10 Tribes of Israel exiled by Assyria some time during the 8th century BCE, and scattered throughout the world.

According to Biblical prophecies one of the signs of the Messianic era is the return of these lost tribes to Israel - so it was fitting that the first holy site the group visited was the tomb of Rachel, the Jewish matriarch whose spirit is said to have mourned for the exiled children of Israel.

After their visit to Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem, the group moved on to Jerusalem's Armon Hanetziv neighborhood to take in a spectacular view of the Old city. Overcome with emotion, they began to spontaneously sing a traditional Bnei Menashe song of the Jewish return to Zion.

After that, the group visited the Kotel (Western Wall), amid palpable excitement.

"It has been for many years that I've been dreaming about and hoping about praying here," said Yochanan Phaltual. "And at last I am standing here."

Shavei Israel founder and head Michael Freund addressed the group at the Kotel, where he was presented by community elders with an award for his efforts to support the Bnei Menashe. Freund pledged both to continue supporting them as they integrated into Israeli society, as well as to secure the aliyah of their remaining brethren still in India.

"It's a very moving experience for me to see you here in the Old City of Jerusalem, standing before the place where the Temple once stood," he said. "We will continue our efforts until every last member of Bnei Menashe that is in India is able to come here and be with us here in Eretz Yisrael!"




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