Sunday, June 26, 2011

B'nei Menashe

Found on Arutz 7

Shavei Israel and Michael Freund have done some truly amazing work in the past. They continue it today with Israel's acceptance of approximately 7,000 "lost" Jews from India.

This is not a halachic discussion on their status of Jews. I will not posit if they are or are not. I do believe a few things regarding the Aliyah of these individuals.

1) Definitive Status: In today's environs, many Jews have questionable halachic statuses. Mixed marriage and assimilation have run rampant in countries like the US. This is with the yeshiva system, groups like the OU, Agudah Yisrael, NCYI and other Jewish organizations re-establishing Judaism in the diaspora. Many people, including myself, have been subject to accept Judaism and have a conversion process that is not as stringent as a true goy going through the process. Even more so, in a country like India, where organizations like those in the US and Europe, have not set their roots, it is impractical to think that a community, no matter how they view themselves, is fully Jewish. This is not to say that they aren't, but we have no way of knowing. There have been Jews in India for many hundreds of years, via the Spice Route, Silk Road and other trade routes. There was mention of them, I'm sure, but what could hurt for a group such as this to reaffirm the faith that they say they adhere to.

2) Slippery Slope: I think that without this definitive status, it can open up a flood gate of people that would play the system, as has been reported with a large number of the Russian Aliyah, looking for a better life, but refuse to play by the legal rules of the country.

3) Placement: There needs to be a system in place to help integrate this beautiful community with the general public. Mistakes were made with the aforementioned Russian Aliyah, as well as the Ethiopian and Yemenite Aliyah. Unfortunately, many of these beautiful communities struggle to gain footing in Israel. Often times, they live in extremely poor neighborhoods with no integration into the Israel public, and not for lack of trying. Israel was just not set up to handle these types of communities and the social mores that come along with them. If the Bnei Menashe community would like to stand a chance, it would behoove the Israeli government, Shavei Israel and other groups, to acclimate them before making Aliyah, including Ulpan, social classes and setting up community centers that provide help, both financially and socially. This is not to say that there haven't been cases where people have succeeded, because there has, but generally, an infrastructure would lessen the hardships of leaving a country and reestablishing their community in Israel.

4) Location: It is extremely important for Israel, specifically the Ministry of the Interior, to settle this community in areas that are well guarded, but lacking in a Jewish presence. It sounds like I am calling for the ghettoization of Bnei Menashe, and I guess in a sense, I am. It is not to say that they can't leave these areas, but establishing them in these communities, giving them a home base to grow and strengthen is not a terribly bad idea. After settled and acclimated to a new country and social structure, and when they feel comfortable enough to venture out, they could, and have something to fall back on. Support for such a large migration is so important.

It is so amazing to see the ingathering of the exiles like this. I am so lucky to merit seeing it and I welcome it whole-heartedly. I wish Shavei Israel could do this in so many other countries. In fact, I read an article about the Hidden Jews of the Island of Majorca. It would be beautiful to help them out of hiding and to bring them home with their family. It is, however, a situation that can backfire for both Israel and Bnei Menashe, and I hope that steps are taken to help this beautiful, history rich community thrive in Israel. I believe that with the right tools, they will be a shining example of what Olim and Jews can be and can do in Israel.

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