Skip to comments.End of 2,700-year exodus for India's lost tribe of Jews
Posted on 04/24/2005 4:40:48 AM PDT by CarrotAndStick
AIZAWL, India (Reuters) - In unison they dip their middle fingers into their plastic cups of grape juice, calling out in Hebrew the names of the 10 plagues they believe their God sent to curse the ancient Egyptians.
Plastic Israeli flags and photographs of Jerusalem adorn the chipboard walls. Saturday's feast could have been a celebration of Passover anywhere in the Jewish world, but this is no ordinary celebration and these are no ordinary Jews.
In India's remote hill states of Mizoram and Manipur, thousands of people who believe they belong to one of the Biblical 10 "lost tribes" of Israel are celebrating what they hope is their last Passover before ending a 2,700-year exodus.
Three weeks ago, reports came from Israel that Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar had accepted the B'nei Menashe as one of the fabled lost tribes, and would send a team of rabbis to formally convert them and bring them back to Israel.
"All our dreams have come true," said Liyon Fanai, who embraced Judaism two years ago. Just as the Passover marked the Jews departure from Egypt for Israel, so Liyon hopes this year will mark his departure for the Promised Land.
On Thursday, a call came from Israel saying a place had been put aside for him, his wife Leora and his 12-year son Sampson, in a Golan Heights settlement.
MIXED UP GENES
"It is our Mitzvah, our duty to go," he said after blessing and breaking the bread at a Sabbath gathering in his home in the Mizo capital Aizwal, which spreads over the steep hills outside his window. "Internally, I feel I am an Israeli... not an Indian."
On the face of it, it is hard to imagine a more unlikely story. A tribe, exiled from Israel by the Assyrians around 720 B.C. somehow finds its way, via Afghanistan and China, to this thin slice of India sandwiched between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
On the way, they forget their language, their history and most of their traditions. Their genes are so mixed up they look like their Mongoloid neighbours, their memories so faded they speak a Tibeto-Burmese language, rear pigs and eat pork.
Almost all that remains is a name -- Manasseh, Menasia or Manmase, an ancestor whose spirit they invoke to ward off evil.
In 1950, a holy man from a remote village in Mizoram said the Holy Spirit had appeared to him in a vision, to explain that the "children of Manasseh" were in fact the children of Menashe, a son of Joseph -- and it was time to come home. Gradually his ideas took hold, among a population that had only just been converted to Christianity a few decades before. Today, there are 800 Menashe in Israel, most in West bank and Gaza strip settlements, and 7,000 more in Mizoram and Manipur hoping for their chance to join them.
The answer to an intriguing Biblical mystery, or simply a case of mass delusion?
The case for the defence rests with Zaithanchhungi, a Christian woman who has made her name researching and defending the Menashe's claims.
Before Christian missionaries came from Wales and England to these misty, forested hills in the late nineteenth century, the Mizo, Kuki and Chin peoples worshipped one Almighty God, albeit challenged by more than a dozen other spirits.
'CROSSING THE RED SEA'
Some of the practices involved in animal sacrifice were similar to ancient Hebrew traditions, while an ancient song among one tribe talked of "crossing the Red Sea", with enemies in chariots at their heels, she says.
Mizo woven shawls are not unlike Jewish prayer shawls in design. In place of circumcision, is a cleansing ceremony eight days after a child is born, involving burning of incense.
"This is trying to manipulate ethnology to fit your own interpretation," counters Pachuau Biaksima, an elder with the Presbyterian church to which most Mizos belong. "In any two tribes, you cannot fail to identify similarities."
Biaksima sees Satan's hands at work, "the dark kingdom" filling idle minds with "delusions of grandeur".
Even the Menashe themselves acknowledge that the idea of rediscovering their roots resonated deeply with a people struggling with their sense of identity, after the rapid spread of Christianity all but wiped out ancient practices.
"Christianity made me feel alien in my own land," said Azriel Hmar. "It was in contrast to our original customs."
Science has yet to give a conclusive answer to Mizoram's mystery. Calcutta's Forensic Science Laboratory found no trace of typical Jewish genes in the male Y chromosomes of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo, but found some evidence of a possible, but diluted, maternal link to the Near East. Research by Israel's Technion institute and the University of Arizona may provide more conclusive results, even if they are unlikely to change the Menashe's fate. For now, the ball is in the court of Israel's Chief Rabbinate -- a spokesman said a final decision on whether to allow mass conversions outside Israel would be taken after Passover ends on April 30.
In Aizwal, 23-year-old Samuel Lalrindika is back from Israel, on leave halfway through three years of military service. He emigrated with three friends in 2000.
"I am homesick. And I do face discrimination, because of my features and because my Hebrew is not perfect," he said. "But this is the Promised Land, and I have to fight for my country. I am an Israeli."
Young Indian Jews attend a Sabbath gathering in Aizawl, Mizoram, April 22, 2005. REUTERS/Kamal Kishore
This is true of Hinduism too. I mean, just look at it, Christianity arrived India two thousand years ago, Islam did so about a thousand years ago, but both religions are a minority in the country. Maybe this has got to do with people refusing to change old ways, and that can be detrimental. On the contrary, it could also be that these very same people are constantly and consistently updating their culture, and hence able to survive the ravages of time. What do you think?
From what I've read on this over the years these people are totally assimilated into Indian Culture except for their religious faith. From the tenor of your comment, for one to 'assimilate' into a new culture is to give up previously held religious beliefs, or am I misunderstanding you on this?
Really? Only Reuters would report that Jews have "their own G-d," as distinct from the true Christian G-d. Morons.
hah I needed a good laugh this morning.
aint nothin finer than Jews returning and liberating more ancestral Jewish land. Pissing off jew hating libs in the process is just sprinkles on the doughnut.
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