First Bnei Menashe Community Center in Israel Opens
A community center intended specifically for Bnei Menashe immigrants has been formally inaugurated in Kiryat Arba. The center is the first of it’s kind in Israel. Offering an array of classes, lectures and other activities for the Bnei Menashe community, the community center is a joint project of the Kiryat Arba Local Council and Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), a Jerusalem-based group that assists “lost Jews” seeking to return to the Jewish people. Speaking at the dedication ceremony, Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund stressed that “the goal of establishing this center is to strengthen the Bnei Menashe community and to provide a place where young people, the elderly and people of all ages can receive educational, cultural and religious enrichment.”
The center has already begun to host daily Hebrew language classes, as well as in other subjects such as arts and crafts and drawing. The opening ceremony was attended by Kiryat Arba mayor Tzvi Katzover and the town’s rabbi, Dov Lior, as well as by dozens of local members of the community. A group of Bnei Menashe children put on a series of artistic and musical performances, and the audience also heard short speeches about the community’s origins and practices back in India. Bnei Menashe claim descent from the tribe of Manasseh, one of the ten tribes exiled from the Land of Israel by the Assyrians over 2,700 years ago. They reside primarily in the two Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur, along the border with Burma and Bangladesh.
On March 30, Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Amar, formally recognized the Bnei Menashe as “descendants of Israel”, and promised to send a beit din (rabbinical court) to India to convert the remaining members of the community, thereby enabling them to move to Israel. In recent years, over 800 members of the community have made aliyah to Israel thanks largely to the efforts of Shavei Israel. Nearly 100 Bnei Menashe families have settled in Kiryat Arba.
The community center is called “Beit Miriam – the Shavei Israel Community Center”, in memory of Freund’s grandmother, Dr. Miriam Freund-Rosenthal, a lifelong Zionist who served as national president of Hadassah and was involved in bringing Moroccan Jewish youth to Israel in the 1950s.