With tears in their eyes, 550 immigrants from the Bnei Menashe community, who recently immigrated to Israel and now live in the Galilee, today visited the Western Wall (The Kotel) for the first time, together with the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi David Lau. The Bnei Menashe prayed for the Aliyah to Israel of the 5,000 members of their community who remain in India.
One of the Bnei Menashe, Shmuel Manlun (40), said: "It was like a dream come true for me. I couldn't hold back my tears. It feels like we are part of a prophecy being fulfilled."
The festivities today at the Kotel were organized for the Bnei Menashe by the Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel organization, which has been promoting the Aliyah of the Bnei Menashe to Israel for two decades, and were attended by Michael Freund, Chairman of Shavei Israel, Sar-Shalom Jerby, Director of the JNF Education Division, and Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan, head of the Religious Council in Jerusalem.
“Seeing and touching the stones of the Western Wall was an extremely emotional experience for the Bnei Menashe. For them, it was not only a symbolic and historic event signifying a people returning to their land, but also a powerful spiritual moment, unlike any they have experienced before,” said Freund.
“You are a success story and we are very happy to accept you as part of the Jewish people,” said Rabbi Lau. “I`m very excited to be here with you today. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel is happy to assist you with your very successful conversion process, which is the ideal example for anyone who wants to convert and become part of the Jewish people.”
The Bnei Menashe, or sons of Manasseh, claim descent from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, who were sent into exile by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago. Their ancestors wandered through Central Asia and the Far East for centuries, before settling in what is now northeastern India, along the borders of Burma and Bangladesh. Throughout their sojourn in exile, the Bnei Menashe continued to practice Judaism just as their ancestors did, including observing the Sabbath, keeping kosher, celebrating the festivals and following the laws of family purity. They continued to nourish the dream of one day returning to the land of their ancestors, the Land of Israel.
Thus far, Shavei Israel has made the dream of Aliyah, immigration to Israel, possible for over 5,200 Bnei Menashe and plans to help bring more members of the community to Israel. Currently, there are 5,000 Bnei Menashe awaiting their return to the Jewish homeland.