200 Indian Jews ready to leave for ‘Promised Land’

November 17th, 2008 - 2:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Aizawl, Nov 17 (IANS) About 200 Indians are set to emigrate to Israel in January after they were officially recognised as Jews, community leaders here said Monday.Rabbinical leaders in Jerusalem said the Israeli government approved the request for emigration by 200 people from the states of Mizoram and Manipur in northeastern India.

“The new batch would arrive in January by a special flight and would be received by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the Ben-Gurion Airport in Jerusalem,” a communiqué from the Israeli prime minister’s office received by newly converted Jews here said.

“Many people are waiting to go to their ‘Promised Land’. We are yet to get the details of who would actually go,” Jeremia Hnamte, administrator of the Mizoram chapter of the Shavei Israel Organisation (SIO), told IANS.

The SIO is a group headquartered in Jerusalem and dedicated to searching for lost tribes of Israel and helps them return to their ‘Promised Land’. Rabbinical leaders announced in 2006 that some 6,000 members of the Bnei Menashe tribe in India’s northeast were descendants of ancient Israelites or one of the Biblical 10 lost tribes.

The recognition from Israel came after tribe members sent scores of applications seeking to migrate to Israel, saying it was their right to do so.

According to Israeli law, every Jew enjoys the “right of return” - or the right of abode in the country. After the recognition, a group of rabbis visited Mizoram in 2006 and converted the first batch of 218 Mizo tribal people to Judaism after they took a holy dip at a mikvah or a ritual bath.

The rabbi spent six months in Aizwal to teach Hebrew and impart lessons in Judaism to the tribal people.

“Everybody is waiting to leave for their Holy Land. A vast majority of the people do not know Hebrew, though many of them are now learning the language and following the religion like the one practised in Israel,” said Zaitthangchungi, a local researcher and author of a book “Israel Mizo Identity”.

Some 1,000 people from Mizoram and neighbouring Manipur have migrated to Israel since 1994 when a private body, the Amishav Association, took up their case. The last batch of 208 Mizo Jews left for Israel in 2006.

Mizoram is a predominantly Christian state, while most Manipuris follow Hinduism. Most Jews in the two states were Christian by birth.

Apart from names, the converts share many practices in common with traditional Jews -such as keeping mezuzahs or parchment inscribed with verses of the Torah at the entrance to their homes. The men wear a kippah or headgear during prayers.

“I have no regrets leaving Mizoram as going to Israel is our right,” said Y. Ralte, a young Mizo Jew now learning Hebrew at a school here.

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