09/30/2006, 00.00
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After millennia in India, lost tribe returns to Israel

The presumed descendents of the Bnei Menashe, one of the 10 lost biblical tribes mentioned in the Bible, are about to leave India after 2,700 years. They will reside in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Tel Aviv (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A group of 218 people from a mountainous area of north-eastern India are about to be welcomed in Israel. These are the presumed descendents of the Bnei Menashe tribe, one of the 10 lost biblical tribes lost after the exodus from the Promised Land, mentioned in the Bible. The news was confirmed yesterday by Israeli government sources.

Michael Freund, founder of Shavei Israel [an association assisting "lost Jews" to return to Israel], described this as a "turning point". He said: "This is a major historical event, because these members of a lost tribe of Israel can return home after 27 centuries."

Members of the tribe have already undergone official conversion in India despite protests – even at diplomatic level – in New Delhi. The rabbis sent to the Indian states of Mizoran and Manipur by Israel's Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Amar, followed the conversions of the tribal people and declared them "descendants of the Jewish people".

The tribe has around 7,000 members; 1000 already live in Gaza strip and in settlements in the West Bank. Lawyers who pleaded their cause with the Israeli and Indian governments said the move of the lost Jews "was not a political but a practical decision". Settlements in those areas, in fact, were the only ones that allocated funds "to help their brothers return to their homeland".

Mizoram is a predominantly Christian state while most of the population of Manipur is Hindu. At the start of the twentieth century, tribal members converted to Christianity.

"A vast majority of the people do not know Hebrew although many of them are now learning the language. The rites officiated are however like the one practiced in Israel," said Zaitthangchungi, a local researcher and author of a book 'Israel Mizo Identity'.

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