by: Michael Freund, Chairman, Shavei Israel (“Israel Returns”)
We are living in extraordinary times. The hand of G-d in the affairs of man is evident, and there is no greater proof of this than the ingathering of the exiles from the four corners of the earth. “Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth,” declares the L-rd (Isaiah 43:6). Over the past sixty years, since the founding of the State of Israel, that is precisely what He has been doing, as Jews from Russia, Ethiopia, and elsewhere have all heard the sound of the great shofar [ram’s horn] and come to Jerusalem.
But now, a very special community has also begun its long journey back. More than 2,700 years after being exiled from the land of their ancestors, a Lost Tribe of Israel is finally coming home. In the farthest reaches of northeastern India, along the border with Burma and Bangladesh, live the Bnei Menashe (Hebrew for “the sons of Manasseh”). They are descendants of the tribe of Manasseh, who were exiled from the land of Israel by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago (see I Chronicles 5:26).
Throughout their wanderings, the Bnei Menashe remained true to the ways of their ancestors. They observed the Sabbath, kept kosher, and celebrated the festivals. The Bnei Menashe never forgot where they came from or who they are, and where they one day dreamed of returning. And now, just as the prophets foretold, this lost tribe will be lost no more.
A decade ago, I founded Shavei Israel, an organization dedicated to locating the lost tribes of Israel and assisting them to return to Zion in accordance with Biblical prophecy. Since then, we have been blessed to bring 1,700 Bnei Menashe to Israel, where they have been absorbed successfully into the Jewish state. Another 7,232 Bnei Menashe remain in India, awaiting their chance to return. Their dream is now poised to become a reality.
At a recent meeting I attended in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, a government committee formally decided to bring the Bnei Menashe back home to Zion. This is a momentous development. It is a miracle of Biblical proportions, one that will help to strengthen Israel. In the coming months, the first group of Bnei Menashe immigrants is expected to arrive in the Holy Land.
Now I know what some of you might be thinking: Just how do we know that the Bnei Menashe are, in fact, descendants of a lost tribe of Israel? The evidence in fact is quite overwhelming. On a recent visit to India, I watched in amazement as hundreds of members of the Bnei Menashe gathered to sing and pray in Hebrew. With a mixture of tears and joy, they reaffirmed their determination to return to the land of their ancestors, the Land of Israel.
During the visit, I met with Yossi Hualngo, an elderly resident of Aizawl, capital of the Indian state of Mizoram, where many of the Bnei Menashe currently live. Two of Hualngo’s uncles served as village priests, and, speaking through an interpreter, he offered a detailed description of the Biblical Jewish ceremonies they performed. His uncles, he said, would don white garments before carrying out sacrificial rites, including one with strings dangling from its four corners, reminiscent of the tallit (the four-cornered ritual prayer shawl) worn by Jews.
In the spring, at Passover time, they would mark an annual festival of deliverance by sacrificing an animal, but not before smearing its blood on people’s doorways, just as the Israelites had done during the Exodus from Egypt. According to Hualngo, there was a rule that the priests had to carefully remove the meat from the bones of the animal without breaking any of them, just as the Bible instructs regarding the Passover sacrifice (see Exodus 12:46).
Then, in a remarkable scene, Hualngo proceeded to chant one of the prayers that his uncles used to say while conducting the sacrificial ceremony. The words in the song, and their Biblical origin, are unmistakable: Terah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Red Sea, Marah and Shiloh (site of the ancient tabernacle and capital of the northern tribes of Israel until the Assyrian conquest).
This ancient Bnei Menashe prayer parallels the Biblical account of the Exodus from Egypt: “We had to cross the Red Sea; our enemies were coming after us with chariots; the Sea swallowed them all, as if they are meat. We are led by the cloud during the day and by fire at night. Take those birds for the food and drink water coming out from the rock.”
It should come as no surprise, then, that in March 2005, Israel’s Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar recognized the Bnei Menashe as zera Yisrael or the “seed of Israel” and said they should be brought to the Jewish state. The story of the Bnei Menashe is truly breathtaking, one which almost defies rational explanation. Despite more than 2,700 years of exile and persecution, they managed to preserve their Jewish heritage and nourished the dream of Zion.
And now, we are steadily moving forward to the great and historic day when the exile of the Bnei Menashe will at last come to an end, just as the prophets promised.
But just what, you might be wondering, does any of this have to do with Christians such as yourself? The answer is: everything—if you take the Bible seriously. It was the prophet Isaiah who predicted that the nations of the world would actively play a role in this historic process and would help to bring back G-d’s beloved people to His Holy Land.
In Isaiah 49:22, the Bible says, “Thus says the L-rd G-d: ‘Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the nations, and set up my standard to the peoples, and they shall bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.’” From this verse, we see clearly and unequivocally that the nations of the world will assist with the return of the Jewish people to Zion.
Based on this, each and every one of you, as individuals and communities, has a Biblical responsibility to play a part in facilitating the return of the Jewish people to Israel. Think about what this means: You can play a part in the unfolding of this miracle. You can “carry” the Jews back home as G-d wishes. You can help to make it happen, through your love, your prayers, and your support. Financial and bureaucratic obstacles are the only things standing in the way..Please pray for the Bnei Menashe and other lost tribes of Israel to come home, because nothing can impede G-d’s will!
In the book of Genesis, the L-rd makes a decisive promise to Abraham, and through him to all the nations: “I will bless those who bless you, and those who curse you will be cursed” (12:3). Notice that G-d presents each person with a very clear and unequivocal choice: you either bless Abraham’s descendants, the Jews, or you curse them.
In these critical times, there can be no better way to bless Israel than by supporting the return of Jews from around the world to Zion. So don’t sit back and let history pass you by. The dispersed of Israel have begun their long journey home. Many Christians have been part of the miracle. And just as the Creator made clear, anyone who does so will most assuredly be blessed.
Michael Freund is founder and chairman of Shavei Israel, dedicated to bringing the Bnei Menashe home.
Bridges for Peace helps many of the Bnei Menashe through our New Immigrant Fund.
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