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Last Updated: Monday, 11 December 2006, 08:41 GMT
'Lost Tribe' returns to Israel
By Martin Patience
BBC News, Upper Nazareth Absorption Centre

Avior Kholhring
Avior Kholhring in his new home

When Avior Kholhring stepped off a plane two weeks ago at Ben Gurion airport - close to Tel Aviv - he says that he finally came home.

Despite being the first time he has left his native India, the 35-year-old along with his wife and their three children always longed to live in Israel.

"This is the promised land," says Mr Kholhring. "And my heart is happy. I have finally fulfilled my dream."

Mr Kholhring and his family are members of Bnei Menashe, descendants of the tribe of Menashe - one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel.

The tribe are believed to have been expelled from Israel when the Assyrians invaded the country's northern kingdom in the 8th Century BC.

The community's oral tradition says that the tribe travelled through Persia, Afghanistan, Tibet and China, before settling in north-east India.

Obstacles

In the last decade, over 1,000 members of the community came to Israel. But in 2003, the Israeli authorities froze the process after questioning the authenticity of the Bnei Menashe's Jewish claims.

I'm looking forward to spending the Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) as it should be observed
Dana Kholhring

Last month, however, four planeloads of 218 members of the 7,200-strong community still in India arrived in Israel. The youngest was a two-week-old baby and the oldest an 84-year-old woman.

"After facing so many obstacles and headaches along the way it was very moving to see the resumption of this blessed Aliyah (Jews immigrating to Israel)" says Michael Freund, chairman of the Shavei Israel organisation, which fought to bring the community to Israel.

Now, Mr Kholhring and his family, along with other members of the community, are living in the Upper Nazareth absorption centre - one of 33 Jewish Agency centres dotted round the country preparing new immigrants for life in Israel.

The concrete two-storey centre, set on a hill-side, houses 360 Jews from India, Ethiopia, Russia and Norway. It has views overlooking the historic city of Nazareth.

In Mr Kholhring's three-roomed apartment, the conditions are basic - a kitchen, iron beds, plastic seats, and glaring white walls with only a map of Israel and two drawings by his children for decoration.

Hebrew Lessons

But in spite of the sparseness, Mr Kholhring says he's very happy.

Inside the Manipur synagogue
A Bnei Menashe synagogue back in Manipur, India

"It's like being a dorm student again," he says. "We've all got so much to learn."

The first two weeks have been spent opening bank accounts, preparing health insurance, and filling out forms to obtain an Israeli passport.

The community is also starting intensive Hebrew language lessons, something they realise is the key to their future success in Israel.

Children and young adults often assimilate quicker than their parents.

Arbi Khiangte, 21, for example, already speaks good Hebrew after language studies in India and is keen to study nursing at university.

Hot Food

She describes coming to Israel as "more than she expected" and showers praise on the authorities for making her journey possible.

Mizoram Jews at school
Jewish children studying in Mizoram

But like all of the immigrants there is a lot to get use to.

"I don't like the cold winds," she says, as she shuts a window. "But I think the food is healthier here than in India: because it's kosher."

For all of the immigrants, Israel is their new home. Most have sold all their belongings in India - houses, furniture, lands - and they say it's unlikely they will ever return home.

Many like, Mr Kholhring say Israel offers them the opportunity to live like Jews and not be mocked for their faith as sometimes happened in India.

"I'm looking forward to spending the Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) as it should be observed," says Mr Kholhring's wife, Dana.

Mr Kholhring agrees adding that the absorption centre has given all the families an electrical hob that works on a timer.

In Orthodox Judaism, it is forbidden to turn on electrical appliances during the Jewish Sabbath.

"Now I'll be able to eat hot food on the Shabbat," he says. "In India, it was always cold."


SEE ALSO
Indians start new life in Israel
21 Nov 06 |  South Asia
Rabbi backs India's 'lost Jews'
01 Apr 05 |  South Asia
India's 'lost Jews' wait in hope
18 Aug 04 |  South Asia
Mizo 'Jews' seek Israel visas
23 Dec 03 |  South Asia

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