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Their Homes May Be Far Away, But Their Hearts Are in Israel


Eitan Rabin, Maariv on-line, May 9, 2005
Members of the Bnei Menashe community, who reside along the border between India and Burma, are waiting to make aliyah. And they haven't forgotten to observe Israel's Memorial Day and Independence Day. As Israelis are busy organizing ceremonies this week to mark Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day), members of the Bnei Menashe community in northeastern India are also preparing to commemorate Israel's fallen soldiers and celebrate the country's independence. The Bnei Menashe, who live near India's border with Burma, claim descent from the Biblical tribe of Manasseh. Nearly 1,000 of them have immigrated to Israel in recent years. Many of the community's younger members have volunteered to serve in the Israeli army, and some of them are in elite combat units, including the paratroopers, Golani, Givati and the Nahal HaHaredi. In March of this year, Israel's Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Amar, decided that the Chief Rabbinate would recognize the community's connection with the Jewish people, and will dispatch representatives to convert them, thereby enabling them to make aliyah. Currently, the Bnei Menashe are planning to mark Israel's Memorial Day and Independence Day later this week, and have equipped themselves for this purpose with all the necessary gear, including the "Yizkor" (memorial) prayer as well as blue and white Israeli flags. "It is remarkable how the Bnei Menashe, who have been waiting so long to come to Israel, go to such great lengths to celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut and conduct a special ceremony for Yom HaZikaron, even though they are living in a distant land. It shows how much their hearts are here - in Israel," said Michael Freund, Chairman of Shavei Israel. which is primarily responsible for the Bnei Menashe aliyah. "I am moved that they are doing so. It is really heartwarming to hear the sense of excitement and anticipation that they feel. Soon, with the government's help, I hope that we will bring the remaining members of the Bnei Menashe to Israel," Freund said.

Keywords: Bnei Menashe, Indian Jews, Israel