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Shalva Weil writes that "although there is no documentary evidence linking the tribal peoples in North-East India with the myth of the Lost Israelites, it appears likely that, as with revivalism, the concept was introduced by the missionaries as part of their general millenarian leanings. This was certainly the case in other countries, where Christian missionaries 'discovered' Lost Tribes in far-flung places, in order to speed up the messianic era and bring on the Redemption. In China, for example, the Scottish missionary Rev. T. F. Torrance entitled his 1937 book "China's Ancient Israelites" expounding the theory that the Qiang people are really Lost Israelites".
1979: Amishav (Hebrew for "My People Return"), an Israeli organisation founded by Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail and dedicated to locating the lost tribes of Israel, heard about a group in India claiming descent from Israelites. The Rabbi traveled to India several times during the 1980s to investigate the claims. Convinced that the Bnei Menashe were indeed descendants of Israelites, he dedicated himself to converting them to Orthodox Judaism and facilitating their aliya with funds provided by benefactors such as the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a US-Israeli organisation which raises funds from evangelical Christians for Jewish causes.
1998: US-Israeli translator and New York Sun columnist Hillel Halkin travels to India with Rabbi Avichail to meet the Bnei Menashe and writes a widely-reviewed book about it entitled Across The Sabbath River (2002).
The Rabbi eventually steps aside as leader of Amishav in favour of Michael Freund, a Jerusalem Post columnist and former deputy director of communications & policy planning in the Prime Minister's office.
[So it was reported but apparently such was not the case. See next paragraph, Brit-Am editor]
July 2006: In an interview with North-East Indian magazine Grassroots Options, Hillel Halkin explains the background: "Avichail is today a man in his seventies, and several years ago, persuaded that Amishav needed younger leadership, he ceded his position to an American-Israeli journalist, Michael Freund. The two (Avichail and Freund) ultimately quarreled over organisational matters, and Freund left Amishav and founded a new organization called Shavei Israel. Both men have their supporters within the B'nei Menashe community in Israel, although Avichail continues to be the more influential and admired figure.
"Kuki-Mizo tribal rivalries and clans have also played a role in the split, with some groups supporting one man and some the other. Because Freund is independently wealthy, Shavei Israel is the better funded of the two organisations and has been able to conduct more activities, particularly in the area of supporting Jewish education for the B'nei Menashe in Aizawl and Imphal".
Freund says that the Bnei Menashe "are a blessing to the State of Israel. They have proved themselves to be dedicated Jews and committed Zionists, and I see no reason why they should not be allowed to immigrate to Israel"
July 2005: Bnei Menashe complete building a mikvah, or a Jewish ritual bath, in Mizoram under the supervision of Israeli rabbis in order to begin the process of conversion to Judaism. Shortly after, a similar Mikvah was built in Manipur. In mid-2005, with the help of Shavei Israel and the local council of Kiryat Arba, the Bnei Menashe opened its first community centre in the Land of Israel.
1 April 2005: Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, one of Israel's two chief rabbis, accepts the Bnei Menashe's claim because of their exemplary devotion to Judaism. His decision is significant because it paves the way for all Bnei Menashe to enter Israel under Israel's Law of Return.
Although the claims of Israelite descent are rejected by most Mizo-Kuki-Chin and called into serious question by Jewish academics, the Bnei Menashe are unshakable in their belief. Indeed, Bnei Menashe who wish to affirm their connection to the Jewish people are required to undergo Orthodox conversions, and every effort is made to ensure that they are accepted according to the strictest interpretation of Jewish law.
In the past two decades, some 1,700 Bnei Menashe have moved to Israel, mostly to settlements in West Bank and Gush Katif (before disengagement). Learning Hebrew has been a great challenge, especially for the older generation, for whom the phonology of their native languages makes Hebrew especially challenging, both phonologically and morphologically. Younger members have more opportunities to learn Hebrew and gain employment as soldiers and nurses aides for the elderly and infirm.
When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced his plan for the disengagement of Gush Katif and some Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria (West Bank), the Bnei Menashe community were especially affected because many had decided to settle in these territories. Prior to Israel's subsequent withdrawal, the Bnei Menashe were the largest immigrant community in Gaza.
Bnei Menashe in India were concerned about family members who they feared were in the middle of violent confrontations between settlers and IDF soldiers. They were also concerned because they had thought of Gaza as their future home once they made aliyah to Israel. Although a group of Bnei Menashe left Gaza before the deadline, others stayed with their fellow settlers during the expulsion.
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