Covid delays 100 Indian Jews’ departure for Israel

Published June 3, 2021
Jewish girls from India’s Manipur state look at a mobile phone at a Covid care facility inside a Gurudwara in New Delhi.—Reuters
Jewish girls from India’s Manipur state look at a mobile phone at a Covid care facility inside a Gurudwara in New Delhi.—Reuters

NEW DELHI: More than 100 Jews from India’s Manipur state have had to delay plans to emigrate to Israel as family members fell ill with Covid and were placed in quarantine in New Delhi.

Soizagin, 40, who will soon renounce his Indian citizenship, calls his permanent move to Israel a “golden opportunity”. “We have been very excited,” said Soizagin, who goes by only one name and is recuperating at a Sikh temple, which has been turned into a Covid care centre. “(We’ve been delayed) just because of this Covid positivity. Otherwise...we should have left by 31st of last month.”

Soizagin is part of India’s roughly 6,000-member Bnei Menashe community, which lives largely in Manipur and neighbouring Mizoram states, in India’s north-east,and has formally been recognised by Israel’s rabbinical leaders as Jews.

On Wednesday, about 40 Bnei Menashe were quarantined at the New Delhi Sikh temple, said Soizagin, who was dressed in an olive green T-shirt and black pyjamas and donned a Jewish kippah skullcap.

The tale of how Bnei Menashe, or the “Children of Menashe”, settled in an Indian region, sandwiched between Bangladesh and Myanmar, is grand in its sweep of history, but short on scientific support.

Exiled from lands that now constitute the state of Israel and the Palestinian territories by the Assyrian empire around 730 BC, a tribe was forced east and travelled through Afghanistan and China before settling in what is now India’s north-east.

With time all that is left is a name — Manasseh, Menasia or Manmase, an ancestor whose spirit the community invokes to ward off evil. That name is then linked to the Israelite tribe of Menashe, one of the biblical “Twelve Tribes of Israel”, 10 of which disappeared after the Assyrian invasion.

While search for conclusive proof of Bnei Menashe’s Jewish origins continues, the community says some of their practices were similar to ancient Hebrew traditions.

Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based organisation which has been locating descendants of the lost tribes of Israel and bringing them home, has previously called the Bnei Menashe’s return a miracle.

Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2021

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