Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue, the first-ever house of prayer in Israel for Bnei Menashe immigrants from India, was inaugurated last Shabbat (Nov. 19) in the northern Israeli city of Nof Hagalil. About 150 worshippers, most of them members of the community, attended.
The Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel organization, which has promoted the Aliyah (immigration) of the Bnei Menashe to Israel for two decades, advanced the plans for the establishment of the synagogue. This came after many requests were received by Tzvi Khaute, the director of the Bnei Menashe absorption at Shavei Israel, from community members to open their own Synagogue.
The synagogue will be used by immigrants from Mizoram, a state in northeastern India. A second synagogue, located in a separate neighborhood of Nof HaGalil, will be opened for immigrants from Manipur, another northeastern Indian state. Nof Hagalil’s mayor, Ronen Plot, has worked closely with Shavei Israel and the community on both projects.
A committee that includes rabbis and community members will set the synagogue’s schedule of prayer times, Torah classes and events. Shavei Israel’s Rabbi Shlomi Uriel will be the community’s spiritual leader for Shabbat and holidays, and will provide lessons in Torah and Halacha (Jewish law). The synagogue will also house a Beit Midrash (study hall) and a community club.
“The opening of the first synagogue in Israel for the Bnei Menashe is an historic and exciting event. Just like any other Jewish community, the Bnei Menashe have their own unique customs, traditions and hymns, which are worthy of preservation. We are delighted that the Bnei Menashe immigrants will now have a synagogue of their own in which to keep these traditions alive,” said Michael Freund, Shavei Israel’s chairman and founder.
“We are grateful to Mayor Ronen Plot and the city’s residents for their warm welcome of Bnei Menashe immigrants. I pray that the synagogue, named after Eliyahu Hanavi – the prophet Elijah who, according to Jewish tradition, will portend Israel’s redemption – will play an important role in the integration of the Bnei Menashe into Israeli society.”
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.