Yom Haatzmaut in India
Yom Haatzmaut in IndiaIsrael news photo: Shavei Israel

Hundreds of Bnei Menashe in northeastern India gathered together earlier this week for communal celebrations of Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day) to mark Israel's 62nd birthday.

The Bnei Menashe (Hebrew for "sons of Manasseh") claim to be descendants of one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, who were sent into exile by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago.

This week's celebrations of Israel's independence were held at the Petah Tikva community in the Indian state of Manipur with more than 400 people participating. The gathering, which was organized by Shavei Israel, included the blowing of the Shofar, the hoisting of Israel's national flag and the singing of Hatikvah.

Over the past decade, Shavei Israel has brought more than 1700 Bnei Menashe to Israel. Some 7,200 remain in India, awaiting permission from Israel's government to make aliyah.

At the event, Bnei Menashe community leaders issued a special plea to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, calling on him to bring the rest of the community to Israel. "We appeal to you to bring our community on aliyah to Israel, so that we can be free and live securely in our Promised Land," the leaders said.

"For 27 centuries, our ancestors wandered in Exile, but they never forgot who they were or where they came from, and they passed down to us a precious legacy - a love for Zion and a deep longing to return to her and to embrace her holy soil," they declared.

The Bnei Menashe leaders also denied reports that appeared recently in the international press suggesting that local underground groups had threatened the community.

"These reports are not correct," they said, adding that, "the underground movements never interfere in any religious aspects, they have respect for all religions and until today there have been no anti-Semitic feelings or activities."

Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund said, "We hope and pray that the dream of the Bnei Menashe to come to Israel will soon become a reality, and that the Israeli government will take the historic decision to bring these members of a Lost Tribe back home to Zion".

Shavei Israel is a non-profit group founded by Michael Freund, who immigrated to Israel from the United States, with the aim of strengthening ties between the State of Israel and the descendants of Jews around the world, among them the Bnei Menashe of India.