A group of 80 members of the Bnei Menashe arrived in Israel on Thursday, bringing the total number of the new immigrants from northeastern India this week to 162.
In an emotional welcoming ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport, the arrivals, who consider themselves Jews, recited Shema Yisrael together.
For many it was a family reunion as well. Some of them had been separated from their nearest kin for many years, as the government agencies, including the Chief Rabbinate, processed their applications for entry.
Community organizer Tamir Banite, for example, came to Israel with his wife and son 18 years ago, but his parents were only able to join them this week, after their application for immigration was finally approved. Their four children, all born in the interim, saw their grandparents for the first time this week.
Banite, who works as a security guard at the Finance Ministry, told The Jerusalem Post: “Words are not enough to express my emotions. I am so happy and excited that we realized the dream of our forefathers.”
Banite lives in Kiryat Arba, where his parents plan to join him after temporary residence in a government absorption center in northern Israel.
On hand to greet them were Interior Minister Rabbi Aryeh Deri, Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen, and Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel, a nonprofit organization which has been instrumental in bringing the Bnei Menashe to Israel.
In 2012, the government lifted a freeze on immigration from the community, and thus far some 3,000 Bnei Menashe have arrived in Israel.
Freund said he hopes that the remaining 7,000 still in India can be brought to Israel in the near future.
The Bnei Menashe have a tradition that they are descendants of the ancient tribe of Menashe, one of the ten tribes that were exiled from the Land of Israel at the end of the Bayis Rishon.