FIFTY members of an Indian community believed to be descendants of one of the lost tribes of Israel have arrived in the Jewish state, completing their immigration.
Linking up with family members who have already settled in Israel, they are among the first wave of the 7200-strong Bnei Menashe community’s mass migration to the Jewish state.
The Indians say they are the descendants of the 10 tribes who lived in the kingdom of Israel in Biblical times and who were dispersed, according to the Bible, after the invasion of the Assyrians in 721 BC.
“After thousands of years of exile, we have returned home at last,” said Nachshon Gangte, 47, waiting for an older sister he has not seen for 12 years.
After hours of patiently waiting in the arrival hall of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, he could no longer hold back his tears when she appeared. “It’s great, God is great. He has allowed me to meet my family on holy land,” he said.
His niece, Zimra, said he was “happy to see my family and my land”.
Michael Freund of the Shavei Israel group (meaning “those who return to Israel” in Hebrew), which arranged their journey, said more than 7000 people have sought help from the Israeli government to emigrate from India.
“The members of this tribe have never forgotten where they came from and we are excited to be able to help them come back,” he said, adding hundreds of others were expected to arrive in coming weeks.
They were welcomed at the airport by dozens of family members, amid a festive atmosphere.
The Bnei Menashe are members of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribe who live in the northeastern Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur near the border with Myanmar (Burma).
Their oral history tells of a centuries-long exodus through Persia, Afghanistan, Tibet and China, all the while adhering to certain Jewish religious practices, like circumcision.
In India, they were converted to Christianity by 19th-century missionaries and, in reading the Bible, recognised stories from their own traditions that convinced them they actually belonged to the Jewish faith.