Over the weekend, two groups of immigrants from Mizoram in northeast India arrived in Israel. They entered Ben Gurion Airport singing, dancing and warmly welcomed by family members they had not seen for many years.
With tears in their eyes, about a hundred new immigrants from the tribe of "Bnei Menashe" (Manasseh) excitedly clutched to chests their blue Israeli Identification cards. They spoke of a 2,000 year old dream coming to fruition.
Shlomit tearfully hugged her sister who she hadn't seen in more than twenty years, and Sarah said, "I tried to get here for so long ... now we're finally here. It's so wonderful."
After a long hiatus, Israel has renewed the "Bnei Menashe" operation — a community belonging to the so-called "lost tribes." As soon as they landed at Ben Gurion Airport, they rushed to say the Shehecheyanu prayer of thanksgiving and received an Israeli identification card issued to them.
The Shehecheyanu prayer is a special prayer of thanks that Jews have been reciting for more than 2,000 years.
In transliterated Hebrew, it is:
Baruch atah Adonai Elohenu melekh ha'olam shehecheyanu vekiymanu vehigi'anu lazman hazeh.
In English, it means:
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.
Expressing his joy, Leon, one of the immigrants, told YNet News, "It's a commandment for every Jew to live in Israel, so I'm fulfilling my duty."
Vichy Freund, a volunteer who took part in the operation, said that "people like to talk about the American Dream. ...Here we see the culmination of the Israeli dream which is based on tradition; on spiritual things, and less on physical things."
In Israel, there are more than three thousand members of the tribe of Manasseh who have returned over the years. This year they will be joined by another 700.
"We are calling it, 'Operation Menashe 2017,'" said Rabbi Michael Freund, CEO of Shavei Israel Organization. Shavei Israel means Returners of Israel. "This is the first wave of the 700, who with God's help, we intend to bring in 2017," Freund said.
"7,000 Bnei Menashe were left behind, in India," Freund added. "Everyone wants to come here and reunite with their families. In the coming years, we will bring all of them because this is their rightful place."
The immigrants made their way out of the airport toward their new (and temporary) homes in the absorption center in Kfar Hasidim in northern Israel, a few miles east of Haifa. There they will complete the conversion process required by Israel for Jews making aliyah. Afterward, they will move to upper Nazareth.
"Bnei Menashe" identify themselves as descendants of the Jewish people. They are part of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribes from Mizoram, Assam and Manipur in Northeastern India, on the border with Myanmar Burma.
According to tradition transmitted from generation to generation, these are the descendants of the tribe of Manasseh — one of the ten tribes exiled from the Land of Israel at the end of the First Temple period.
Their numbers in these areas is currently estimated at approximately 7,000.
This is a lightly edited version of the original article published by YNet News at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4926781,00.html