History was made on Wednesday when Shalem Gin, 20, became the first IDF officer from the Bnei Menashe community - descended from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Gin received the rank of Second Lieutenant, known as Sagam, before friends and family at a ceremony held at the Bahad-1 military base in the Negev.
Born in Mizoram, a state in northeastern India, Shalem made Aliyah with his family at the age of 4. He joined the IDF in 2009 and enlisted in the Combat Engineering Corps, where he finished near the top of his class in his commanders course. After completing the course with honors, Gin was then sent to officer training, which he officially completed yesterday. He will now return to his unit as a platoon commander (mefaked mahlakah).
“This is a dream come true. It brings great joy and pride to me and my family,” Gin said. “As the first Bnei Menashe officer in the IDF, I hope that more from the community will follow.”
“When I met Shalem a few years ago,” said Michael Freund, Founder and Chairman of Shavei Israel, “he told me that even as a child in India he always dreamt of becoming an Israeli combat soldier. Nonetheless, I’m sure that Shalem himself did not imagine that he would become the first Bnei Menashe officer in the IDF, but today he has achieved that goal and we are all very proud of him.”
Shavei Israel, leading the efforts to bring about the return of the Bnei Menashe to the Landof Israel, has helped bring some 1,700 Bnei Menashe home to Zion. Another 7,232 still remain in India, and Freund called – again – on the Israeli government to allow them to make Aliyah with all due haste.
“Shalem Gin’s success story underlines the contribution that the Bnei Menashe wish to make to the State of Israel,” Freund said. “It is time to bring about an end to the community’s waiting, and to enable them to come home to Israelas soon as possible,” he said.
The Bnei (Sons of) Menashe claim descent from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, which were exiled by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago. Their long-running traditions say that throughout their exile, and even after their one copy of the written Torah was lost, they continued to observe Jewish traditions, including the Sabbath, keeping kosher, celebrating the festivals, following family purity laws, and remembering the Exodus from Egypt.
Shavei Israel works to teach Judaism to the Bnei Menashe in India, helps them make Aliyah, and even helps support them in Israel. The organization is active in other countries as well, providing assistance to the Bnei 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.
Photos: Michal Fattal