Because He Was a Jew

What of Rabbi Avichail and his wife Rivka?

Rachel Saperstein, Neve Dkalim/Nitzan

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When we lived in Jerusalem, one of our neighbors, Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail, founded a most unusual organization called Amishav ("My People Return"). We would often see rather strange-looking people - Asiatic and exotic, with high cheekbones and slanted eyes - carrying their infants in white cloth on their backs, beating a path to his door.
They were from northeast India and were called B’nei Menashe.

We got to know some of these people. They were from northeast India and were called B’nei Menashe. They had found their way back to their Jewish roots through, strangely enough, Christian missionaries who had informed them they were most likely the lost tribe of Menashe. Having wandered for thousands of years through China, Burma and finally to the Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram, they had taken on the facial characteristics of the indigenous peoples.

So, under the tutelage of the rabbi they slowly returned to their Judaism and began preparations for living in the land of their forefathers - Israel. The rabbi became their teacher and their Moses, for truly he began their journey to the Promised Land. They went through halachic conversion so there would be no question of their legitimacy as Jews.

The rabbi would ask my husband for help in writing brochures and letters in English explaining the work of Amishav. The rabbi traveled to the far reaches of the world when news of a people practicing Jewish ritual reached him. Many of these peoples did not fully understand why they lit candles on Friday night, wore fringed garments under their clothing, scoured their homes for their Spring festivals and circumcised their sons eight days after birth.

After examining their practices and determining their genuine eagerness to reunite with their brothers in Israel, he would send their leaders to Israel for study. These leaders then returned to teach in their home villages and prepare their people for conversion.
Their children became educators, teaching the love of Judaism and Israel.

Today, in Nitzan, we live with forty such families. We hold these B’nei Menashe families dear to our hearts.

But what of Rabbi Avichail and his wife Rivka, a renowned French teacher? After raising their children in Jerusalem, they sent them out to establish homes in Judea and Samaria and development towns. Their children became educators, teaching the love of Judaism and Israel to their students and to their own children.

Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail, our former neighbor and dear friend, was sitting shiv'a for his brother last Thursday night when news came of the shooting at Yeshivat Merkaz Harav.

When the names were released he learned that among the murdered was his sixteen-year-old grandson, Segev Peniel Avihail.
Segev Peniel Avihail
Rabbi Avichail, who traveled the world to bring his people back to Judaism and to Israel, rose from his shiv'a to attend the funeral of his beloved grandchild - murdered in cold blood because he was a Jew.